The innovation landscape in Brazil is but one strong example of how Boeing’s research partnerships nurture a global industry ecosystem of aerospace technology.
Q&A with the director of Boeing technology in São José dos Campos (São Paulo state), a hub of Brazil’s aerospace companies, R&D organizations and academia.
By Will Wilson, Boeing Writer
Q: Why does Boeing have a research center in Brazil?
A: Boeing invests in R&D internationally for three main reasons: to access world-class technologies and talent, helping us to improve performance and affordability; to co-invest with partners to do more together faster than we would be able to do separately—accelerating and increasing productivity via collaboration; and to strengthen our understanding of and presence in local markets, that is, to generate value-added opportunities for local communities and Boeing.
All of this applies in Brazil. We are focused on strengthening our R&D portfolio through local partnerships, and delivering technologies of value to Boeing and to Brazil. In our experience here, we have been able to develop strong relationships with leading R&D and academic organizations, in an environment that values capturing and protecting intellectual property. We also have been able to develop relationships with the Brazilian government R&D supporting organizations, become immersed in the innovation support ecosystem, and develop funding opportunities to increase the effect of world-class technology development projects for Brazil.
Q: What are the strengths of the Brazilian innovation ecosystem?
A: Brazilian engineering culture is very practical and holistic—that is, innovation drives toward real-world applications that result in applied technologies.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. A paper by three folks in our Boeing Brazil team received an award for best paper at Boeing’s signature internal technical conference last year. The paper focused on an automated cruise climb solution to be implemented in future Boeing flight management systems. In less than a year, the technology was developed, patented, implemented and transitioned to commercial application within Boeing. In our market environment, that ability to transition ideas into customer-oriented solutions is crucial.
It’s important to note, as well, that we have found great support at the Ministry of Science Technology, Innovation and Communications, the Ministry of Development, Industry and Commerce and their investment support agency APEX. We are discussing with EMBRAPII (Brazilian Agency for Industrial Research and Innovation) and FAPESP (São Paulo State Research Foundation) funding opportunities to leverage our investments in our local partners, as well as bringing U.S. academic partners to this collaborative scenario.
And there’s still lots of opportunity to shape innovation in Brazil. We are developing a strategy project with the MIT Industrial Performance Center, as a strategic university partner, to take a deeper look into how Boeing and Brazil can better work together and bring more mutual benefits, impact and speed in technology.
We also have Georgia Tech MBA students working with our researchers in Brazil to tap into the business value of our R&D. In fact we just had a very nice visit by the Georgia Tech teams to our research center and partners to present their initial business assessments.
Q: What are some areas of specific research interest in Brazil?
A: We are always looking to create a technology leap forward with real-world application possibilities. We’ve found several opportunities in Brazil where we can work with partners to rapidly advance world-class technical solutions and research—and to do so on topics and research areas that are especially salient in Brazil.
A good example is an aerodynamics project (focused on aeroacoustics) in which we are bringing together the University of São Paulo and the state University of Campinas—two of the top universities in Latin America and sources of world class talent—as well as Stanford University, a strategic university partner of ours in the U.S. In the last two years, we have performed wind tunnel campaigns and complex CFD (computational fluid dynamics) simulations in benchmark cases and Boeing applications, using Boeing’s proprietary code in Brazil.
Another great example is the work on sustainable materials and additive manufacturing we are developing in partnership with Embraer. A recycled titanium technology—a technology that was developed by Boeing in Russia—is now flying in our 2018 ecoDemonstrator program, integrated in collaboration with Embraer. Our work is crucial to explore the potential for this new technology, bridging from invention to application, which is what matters when it comes to real innovation.
Here in Brazil, we are also developing applications in recycled titanium powder for additive manufacturing, with environmental and cost benefits to the industry. Environmental sustainability is of great importance in Brazil, and has been a key area of our efforts here.
In flight performance and efficiency, in addition to the cruise climb technology we mentioned before, we are just starting a project with GOL airlines for “big data in the skies” for their fleet and to use software in tablets to provide real-time guidance to the pilots and airplane, to save fuel or improve performance. We will fine tune the technologies in a joint tech project with GOL—the fifth-largest 737 operator—to help them be more efficient as a competitive differentiator with the 737.
Q: Boeing’s relationship with Embraer has been in the news recently. What are your thoughts?
A: We have had a research partnership with Embraer for many years, including establishing a Joint Research Center for Sustainable Aviation Biofuels in 2015 and our joint work on our ecoDemonstrator program. The first time Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator program had flown in a non-Boeing platform was in 2016, and it was an Embraer E170.
Our joint efforts on biofuels exemplify our mutual value as partners. We not only continue to work with Embraer on biofuel research, but we are jointly leading advocacy and policymaking to enable the sustainable aviation biofuels industry in Brazil. Recently we were invited to provide our vision, together with Embraer, to the Brazilian Senate commission on the subject. This is a model for how industry partners can work together to accomplish something that will have large and long-lasting positive influence on the world.