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The aerospace and defence industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity 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 174,000 patents filed and granted in the aerospace and defence industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in Aerospace, Defence & Security: Airfoil boundary layer modification. Buy 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 stabilising 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. 

180+ innovations will shape the aerospace and defence industry 

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the aerospace and defence industry using innovation intensity models built on over 262,000 patents, there are 180+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry. 

Within the emerging innovation stage, bonded fibre laminates, thermoplastic elastomer laminates, and vibration supression devices are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Centrifugal fan impellers, ceramic composite laminates, and gas turbine engine testing are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are protective blade coatings and blade alloy welding, which are now well established in the industry.  

Innovation S-curve for the aerospace and defence industry 

Airfoil boundary layer modification is a key innovation area in aerospace and defence 

Airfoil boundary layer modification involves optimising the boundary layer of an aircraft body to create greater aerodynamic efficiency by reducing drag. 

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 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established aerospace and defence companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of airfoil boundary layer modification. 

Key players in airfoil boundary layer modification – a disruptive innovation in the aerospace and defence industry    

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

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

Patent volumes related to airfoil boundary layer modification

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Boeing 294 Unlock Company Profile
Airbus 276 Unlock Company Profile
Jetoptera 75 Unlock Company Profile
Safran 36 Unlock Company Profile
General Electric 34 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon Technologies 31 Unlock Company Profile
Lockheed Martin 27 Unlock Company Profile
3M 23 Unlock Company Profile
Textron 20 Unlock Company Profile
Rolls-Royce Holdings 17 Unlock Company Profile
PPG Industries 16 Unlock Company Profile
Howmet Aerospace 15 Unlock Company Profile
Deutsche Lufthansa 14 Unlock Company Profile
Sonaca 12 Unlock Company Profile
Nikon 10 Unlock Company Profile
Saab 8 Unlock Company Profile
Sharp 8 Unlock Company Profile
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan 7 Unlock Company Profile
Midea Holding 6 Unlock Company Profile
Ramot 5 Unlock Company Profile
National Aeronautics and Space Administration 5 Unlock Company Profile
nanoGriptech 5 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

The leading patent filers in this sector are key aerospace companies, with Boeing and Airbus taking the two top spots. These companies are filing patents in order to provide aerodynamic solutions to their aircraft, which will reduce overall fuel use making their aircraft cheaper to run and more sustainable. Other key patent filers include Safran, General Electric, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. The fact that the list is dominated by aerospace companies is indicative of the potential solutions that could come from these patent filings, and showcase how the industry is expanding.

In terms of application diversity, PPG Industries is top, followed by Midea Holding and Saab. By geographic spread, Midea Holding leads, followed by PPG Industries and Saab, respectively.

Solutions in this industry will provide civil and military aircraft with greater aerodynamics and provide solutions for future supersonic aircraft as well as existing aircraft. 

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the aerospace and defence industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Defence

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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.