Big Engine

Once known as the center of the country’s automotive industry, Michigan today might be better understood as the hub of the country’s aerospace industry. As car companies have consolidated and moved their operations out of the state, workers and resources have shifted toward aerospace research, development, testing and manufacturing.

The aerospace industry is projected to grow at a rate of about 3 percent per year in the near future, according to Robert Tilton at Business Facilities. Driving that growth is the need to replace increasingly outdated aircraft with more efficient and up to date models, Tom Captain of Deloitte tells Tilton. To achieve this goal, aerospace companies need facilities that can adapt to meet their needs throughout the development cycle. 

A significant amount of aerospace growth, including a growing focus on the particularities of aerospace facilities management, is occurring in Michigan. Here, we talk about the specific concerns facilities managers face when serving aerospace spaces, from research labs and testing facilities to manufacturing floors and distribution centers.

Accuracy Control and Air Quality

As a recent white paper released by Nortec notes, “The most important task faced by aerospace facility management is accuracy control.” Accuracy control concerns often center around air quality.

Aerospace manufacturing demands strict attention to indoor air quality — particularly humidification, notes Duncan Curd of Nortec. Not only do Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require the control of particulates that are common in aerospace manufacturing, but poor air quality can result in ruined research and defective components as well.

When relative humidity is not maintained between 40 and 60 percent, curing of composites, sealants, coatings, and welding can suffer. Some of these components allow for only a 3-percent variance in humidity — a tough target to meet that can be a source of stress for facilities managers, particularly when HVAC systems are not up to the task, according to Nortec.  

Conditions that are too dry can cause additional problems. Static electricity can build up when humidity is too low, resulting in an electrostatic discharge (ESD) that causes damage to electronic components or even safety risks for workers. In Michigan’s rapidly varying weather and humidity conditions, air quality, humidity and temperature control remain a top priority for aerospace facilities managers.


Water Use

Aerospace is a water-intensive industry, as well. Rinse water used in producing aerospace composites often contains a mix of toxic chemicals that must be adequately treated, and such water is produced in vast quantities in some facilities. While aerospace is not alone in this — a 2008 report by the Arizona Municipal Water Researchers Association estimated that 44.6 trillion gallons of water were used in industry in Phoenix alone — concerns about water use and management often fall to facilities managers in the aerospace arena.

As early as 1973, NASA researchers were addressing the issue of water recovery for aerospace applications. Today, aerospace facilities managers often focus on reducing water loss; reducing or managing water use; and storing, treating or reusing water supplies. FMA’s Terran Hause recently explored ways in which facilities managers are addressing water concerns in aerospace facilities, including water conservation systems, closed-loop systems, on-site water treatment and closer attention to water conservation in the building of new facilities. 

Hause notes that water concerns can also be linked to air quality and other projects in various ways. For instance, the use of chilled water systems for HVAC and process cooling can help increase the energy efficiency of these systems. 

By linking energy and water efficiency concerns, facilities managers can also raise the profile of an aerospace facility’s water needs. “Energy is about four times as expensive as water, so if an institution has resources for a product, they’re going to look at energy because it’s going to return bigger immediate savings,” notes Maddus Water Management president Michelle Maddus. Integration of the two systems, then, can lead to greater efficiencies in both.

Health and Safety for Workers and Communities

Air quality, cleanliness and other concerns don’t just affect the quality of the work performed or components manufactured in aerospace facilities. They also have a significant effect on the health and safety of workers, as Gordon Diener explored in a recent article for Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. The costs of poor air quality include not only damage to components, but decreases in worker productivity, struggles with recruiting and retention, and health risks.

The Bombardier Aerospace facility in Toronto addressed health and safety concerns with an integrated Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) management system, notes Franck Lefebvre, the facility’s director of quality. Tools like a wing positioning system and an underbelly lighting system, which are integrated directly into the facility, have helped the Toronto facility boast the lowest accident rate of any Bombardier facility.

In some places, aerospace facilities must meet stringent state or local regulations designed to protect the health and safety of surrounding communities as well. In 2015, aerospace facilities in Southern California were required to meet more stringent standards on toxic emissions after certain cancer risks were found to be three times higher than previously estimated, according to LA Times reporter Tony Barboza. Of particular concern was chromium-6, also known as hexavalent chromium and “a known human carcinogen,” according to South Coast Air Quality Management District leader Wayne Nastri.

Throughout the United States, aerospace facilities must also attend to the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


Energy Use: Another Major Challenge for Aerospace FMs

The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 requires that newly constructed facilities — including aerospace facilities — achieve net zero energy use by 2030. Existing buildings must upgrade by 2027 to achieve energy savings goals.

Much of the work of monitoring and maintaining energy efficiency systems falls to facilities managers. Because air quality control is a major concern in aerospace facilities, attention to HVAC performance can address two problems at once: According to a 2011 report by the Institute for Building Efficiency, regular HVAC system maintenance can reduce building energy usage by 10 to 20 percent. 

At some facilities, choice of energy generation or investment strategies can also have a significant effect on the facility’s overall energy expenditures and costs. The University of Iowa recently announced a plan to switch the university entirely to renewable energy sources, including biomass, in the next 10 years. University president Bruce Herreld explained that the change would not only improve UI’s energy costs, but would also help attract better faculty and student talent.

In Michigan, wind energy has been receiving increased attention as turbines were included to meet the state’s 2015 renewable energy targets. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) now estimates that wind energy accounts for 1,760 MW of power generated in the state. 

Wind energy is “the most efficient and cost-effective form of renewable energy,” according to DTE Energy senior communications specialist Cindy Hecht. Aerospace companies located in Michigan can take advantage of the state’s recent investments in wind energy in a number of ways, from tapping into wind-based grids to erecting their own turbines.

The Future of Aerospace Facilities Management: Smart Buildings and the Internet of Things

To address many of aerospace facilities’ biggest challenges, many facilities managers are investing their attention in technological options. Many aerospace companies were early adopters of the Internet of Things (IoT), in which sensors, handheld devices and data-crunching networks provide highly detailed views of a facility’s moment-to-moment status and function, according to Intelligent Aerospace executive editor Courtney Howard.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has already begun moving away from FAA-controlled data hubs to cloud-based computing and processing, Teresa Carlson at Amazon Web Services tells Howard. Realizing the “benefits of agility, cost savings, and flexibility” Carlson describes for the FAA, many aerospace companies are following suit.

The Internet of Things and cloud computing offer well-recognized values for facilities managers, particularly in aerospace, where “split-second decisions can mean the difference between success or failure,” notes Thomas Pohl at Digitalist. When temperature relative humidity tolerances are tight, smart sensors can adjust to minute fluctuations, helping to keep these variable stable. Sensors can also help measure the amounts of particulates or volatile chemicals in the air, track water usage and more.

While early adopters are often working with a wide range of proprietary platforms, organizations like the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) are working toward a future in which “all the devices in our lives are connected,” Doug Fisher, senior VP and manager of Intel’s Software and Services Group, tells Howard. Eventually, open connectivity may allow every part of an aerospace facility to work in harmony — and may even allow facilities managers at competing companies in the same city or state to coordinate efforts to improve energy efficiency, health and safety.