At Murzilli Consulting, we're known in the drone industry for providing the best drone-based consultancy services, but when it comes to providing solutions for safety engineering, such as RAMS analyses for the reliability, availability, maintainability and safety of technology solutions, we rely on our partnership with DMD Solutions Consulting.

We've been working with DMD Solutions for many years now and have regularly used their services to assist our clients with any safety engineering needs they may have. In practice, this means that our team will start analysing critical aspects of a system's design well in advance of the regulatory approval process to avoid submitting a potentially flawed design to the certification authorities. Once a client begins to work with DMD Solutions, they’ll notice that the team also takes a unique approach by integrating into their clients' existing engineering teams to become an integral part of clients’ operational processes.

Safety engineering standards in the aviation and drone industries

DMD Solutions offers both engineering and technical documentation services to its clients and provides a multi-disciplinary service, which is very beneficial due to the high standards required by the aerospace industry compared to other engineering disciplines. Dario Di Martino, founder of DMD Solutions, told us that RAMS can be found in any form of engineering, be it in the manufacturing, logistics or pharma industry. However, these projects will always have lower requirements compared to the standards set in the aviation industry.

This means that, ideally, when a company is building a new aircraft, they would request the assistance of the DMD Solutions team at the concept stage so that they have the support of a team of RAMS engineers to ensure that the goal set at the beginning of the project is achievable. The type of engineering provided by the DMD Solutions team is ultimately integrated into the design phase of an aircraft, so their team will then guide the design team through each stage of the project, including performing all the necessary safety and reliability analyses and documenting them to a standard acceptable to the authorities. While DMD Solutions is capable of supporting the entire aerospace industry, our partnership is primarily focused on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which are more innovative systems compared to those found in traditional aviation.

If we find that a Murzilli Consulting client has a design that lacks clear safety standards, we begin by explaining what standards are missed and how these can be changed while offering them the support of our partners at DMD Solutions. We know that by working with the best RAMS safety engineers in the aerospace industry, our clients will be able to meet the expectations of the national aviation authorities with whom we work to obtain operational approvals. The first step DMD Solutions will take after connecting with our client is to conduct initial analyses.

While these analyses aren't rocket science, Dario explained to us, they do require a lot of experience, which many drone start-ups lack. One of the main problems is that even if a design appears to be in order, the analyses require a degree of interpretation and anticipation based on past experience with the various authorities granting certifications. These are often unwritten rules that are only known through past experiences with denials from various national aviation authorities. Each denial comes with a reason as to why an authority has rejected a particular design, which can help steer the whole design certification/verification process in a successful direction from the beginning, ultimately saving valuable time and financial resources.

Unfortunately, most start-ups haven't been in the industry long enough to understand how to navigate these complex certification processes, so their options are often limited to raising enough capital to learn on their own or working from the beginning with those who already have experience.

How long does it take to design and certify a drone for the commercial market?

As mentioned above, aircraft design and certification is an incredibly difficult process due to the high standards set by the authorities. Our customers tend to assume that the whole process will take around 3-4 years, assuming the aircraft design has been developed with full consideration of the certification requirements. Matternet, for example, was founded in 2011 but launched its first commercial delivery route in Zurich in 2022 and recently (autumn 2023) received a Type Certificate and the approval to operate in the United States. The Type Certification process lasted 4 years.

The long nature of certification processes often means that the DMD Solutions team will become a long-term partner for clients, which allows the team to anticipate workloads and increase the number of team members working on client-based projects during critical times such as the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and Critical Design Review (CDR). After these periods of high workload, it's common for design engineers to use the input to adjust various elements of the design, allowing the additional team resources to be moved to other client-based projects, which is not the case for many in-house teams in small companies.

External team members can also provide additional benefits that companies often overlook. For example, due to the natural progression of a person’s career, it means most safety engineers don't stay in one company long enough to see the whole design and certification process. As mentioned above, this can sometimes take around a decade, so it's common for engineers to move to other companies for different projects and experiences throughout their careers. When an in-house safety engineer leaves a company, this creates major operational setbacks during the handover process. With DMD Solutions engineers, everything is documented in such a way that engineers can easily move in and out of a project depending on the workload, providing an extra buffer against tricky handover situations.

Major drone industry changes over the last decade

Since DMD Solutions was founded in 2014, they've seen almost a decade of changes in the drone industry. When we asked Joana Verdera, RAMS engineer and associate partner at DMD Solutions, about these changes, she said she's seen big improvements, "It's not a big change, but it's a change in the vision of the industry and the management of drone companies. They are starting to understand that certification is something they need to pay attention to." Companies are losing the inexperienced start-up feeling that they can do anything without worrying about regulations, and it's being replaced by a higher level of professionalism where they understand the current requirements and how to navigate them with the help of experienced partners.

Dario added that, for the drone industry in particular, it is helpful to compare the increase in social acceptance of the aviation industry. Just 50 years ago, people were afraid to travel by plane because they thought there was a high risk of crashing, whereas today, most people can hop on a plane and travel around the world without worrying because the aviation industry has proven that travelling by plane is safer than travelling by car. The drone industry is going through a similar process of building credibility.

Furthermore, if we look at the technology in the drone industry, we can see that UAVs have a very innovative approach to aerospace engineering. Drone companies are inventing entirely new systems that are incredibly useful for managing air traffic to support automated drone operations, which is a huge milestone for the entire aviation industry. It also presents really exciting challenges for safety engineers who started their careers in traditional aviation. As opposed to a more traditional approach to aerospace engineering where it's normal for safety standards to be so strict that there's only one way to do something and nothing else is allowed, drones can and often must be more experimental.

The whole concept of a drone has to be inherently innovative, from the way it uses energy to the weight of the design and its impact on flight operations. Typically, these innovative approaches on the part of the design engineer conflict with the responsibilities of the safety engineer, often leading to friction between the two roles. Dario explained to us that it's important, especially for the drone industry, that these two roles become best friends and respect each other's work and responsibilities to create a sustainable engineering framework that will allow the entire industry to grow based on their discoveries.

Determining safety standards in drone systems vs drone operations

Drone systems and drone operations are located in two completely different areas, which can be difficult for some start-up companies to understand. Many of these start-ups are formed with a business model that highlights and pushes the need for future drone operations before the drone has even been developed. While this isn't necessarily a problem, it can create friction during the long design and certification process as founders push teams to move faster to achieve these operational goals in unrealistic time frames. This ends up being a difficult challenge for some customers, who don't understand why their designs are unlikely to be approved by their national aviation authority.

This goes beyond micro-operations at the start-up level to encompass the entire mentality of the drone industry. If we don't have the right safety processes in place, we won't be able to create new airspaces even if there are current regulatory pathways that allow it. In this sense, safety should be a much more prominent value, but it often takes a back seat to live operations. This causes a lot of problems for a company in the future, as they have rushed through their safety standards and scaled inefficient designs, forcing them to go through the tedious process of patchworking their previous work to get to an acceptable safety standard, rather than developing a product to the adequate standards, which might have taken less time than their current patchworking efforts.

For those companies that are willing to take the most difficult but often faster path to certification and are willing to work towards adequate safety standards, it almost always means our clients will need to work with DMD.Solutions. From an economic standpoint, redoing a design and starting over is really inefficient, and that’s why we firmly believe in supporting our stakeholders right from the start.

About DMD Solutions

DMD Solutions provides consulting services in the field of aerospace design engineering, with a focus on reliability, availability, maintainability and safety (RAMS) primarily for aircraft, UAV and advanced air mobility projects.

DMD Solutions works as a remote safety & reliability team for manufacturers who need support in their certification efforts. They also provide several options for ‘Talent as a Service’, finding the right person for the right project and shaping the careers with their community of experts. DMD Solutions develops a specialised software suite called Robin RAMS, which can support the engineering efforts of RAMS specialists.

DMD Solutions is based in Barcelona but was born globally, starting with international customers. In 2019, the branch in Luzern opened to better serve clients in Central Europe. Since June 2023, DMD Solutions has been part of The Talent Club, an international business ecosystem whose skills in Talent Representation have empowered growth in the consulting services sector.