The aerospace and defense industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by the uptake of advanced technology, and growing importance of technologies such as hypersonics and advanced materials. In the last three years alone, there have been over 237,000 patents filed and granted in the aerospace and defense industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in defense: aircraft ultrasonic inspectionBuy the report here.

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However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilizing and reaching maturity. 

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have. 

110 innovations will shape the aerospace and defense industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the aerospace and defense industry using innovation intensity models built on over 206,000 patents, there are 110 innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, aircraft fuel cell APUs, self-calibrating scanners, and vibration suppression devices are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Aircraft ultrasonic inspection, aircraft power distribution network, and contour scanning interferometry are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are precision-guided firearms and aircraft power management, which are now well established in the industry.  

Innovation S-curve for the aerospace and defense industry

Aircraft ultrasonic inspection is a key innovation area in aerospace and defense 

Ultrasonic testing is the process of using high-frequency sound energy as a method of detecting surface and below-the-surface cracks as well as other defects. The pulses are generated from a portable system which detects the technical moves over the surface of the relevant component. 

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 80+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established aerospace and defense companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of aircraft ultrasonic inspection. 

Key players in aircraft ultrasonic inspection – a disruptive innovation in the aerospace and defense industry 

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to aircraft ultrasonic inspection

Company Total patents (2021 - 2023) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Bombardier 6 Unlock Company Profile
Rolls-Royce 21 Unlock Company Profile
Constellium 5 Unlock Company Profile
Embraer 11 Unlock Company Profile
Elbit Systems 10 Unlock Company Profile
Fischer Advanced Composite Components 12 Unlock Company Profile
Spirit AeroSystems 8 Unlock Company Profile
Thales 7 Unlock Company Profile
Subaru 71 Unlock Company Profile
KKR 11 Unlock Company Profile
Lockheed Martin 48 Unlock Company Profile
National Aeronautics and Space Administration 8 Unlock Company Profile
Melrose Industries 7 Unlock Company Profile
Ultra Electronics 9 Unlock Company Profile
IHI 52 Unlock Company Profile
Baker Hughes 6 Unlock Company Profile
Kobe Steel 6 Unlock Company Profile
Halliburton 28 Unlock Company Profile
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Angewandten Forschung 10 Unlock Company Profile
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Toegepast-Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek 5 Unlock Company Profile
CEA 22 Unlock Company Profile
Snecma 10 Unlock Company Profile
General Electric 32 Unlock Company Profile
U.S. Department of Defence 6 Unlock Company Profile
BAE Systems 23 Unlock Company Profile
Leonardo 8 Unlock Company Profile
Quest Integrated 7 Unlock Company Profile
Saudi Arabian Oil 21 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon Technologies 47 Unlock Company Profile
RTX 47 Unlock Company Profile
Textron 9 Unlock Company Profile
Safran 97 Unlock Company Profile
Boeing 692 Unlock Company Profile
Airbus 188 Unlock Company Profile
Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt 10 Unlock Company Profile
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries 23 Unlock Company Profile
Toshiba 8 Unlock Company Profile
Shimadzu 10 Unlock Company Profile
Electricite de France 6 Unlock Company Profile
Kawasaki Heavy Industries 19 Unlock Company Profile
THETA TECHNOLOGIES 6 Unlock Company Profile
Sonaxis 5 Unlock Company Profile
Subaru 5 Unlock Company Profile
Gecko Robotics 52 Unlock Company Profile
Howmet Aerospace 4 Unlock Company Profile
Aerobotics 19 Unlock Company Profile
Centre National Research Scientific 22 Unlock Company Profile
Ecole Superieure De Physique Et Chimie Industrielles De La Ville De Paris 10 Unlock Company Profile
Kawasaki Jukogyo Kabushiki Kaisha 6 Unlock Company Profile
The French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission 41 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

The technology has significant applications in aerospace due to its ability to speed up aircraft safety inspections, whilst enhancing safety and reducing costs. The leading patent filter in aircraft ultrasonic inspection technology is Boeing, which sees the area as the future because of its capability to avoid deconstructing aircraft parts for inspection, and has developed the technology over many years to increase aircraft safety whilst driving down costs for customers.

The second largest patent filer in the area is Airbus, which has invested significantly in innovation in this field. It has several products for testing their own aircraft. Other key patent filers in aircraft ultrasonic inspection include Safran, Subaru, IHI, and Gecko Robotics.

In terms of application diversity, Saudi Arabian Oil is the leader, followed by Halliburton and Howmet Aerospace, respectively. By geographic reach, Halliburton holds the top position, followed by Gecko Robotics and Saudi Arabian Oil.

This area has significant earnings potential for aerospace companies and will see ongoing innovation in coming years, providing cost saving measures and increasing safety on aircraft. 

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the aerospace and defense industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Aerospace & Defense.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.