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Manufacturing in Aerospace: Navigating the complexities in a heavily certified environment

Posted by David Stain

November 29, 2016 at 7:05 AM

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Business globalisation means that the market for air travel continues to grow, and there are more aircraft on the move across the world. At the same time, economic growth in specific markets including the Middle East and Asia means that more people can afford to travel by air.

For suppliers and manufacturers, this means exploring ways to expand their capacities, opening up production lines across the world, and optimising the output of their supply chains.

But the aerospace industry is a complex business at the best of times, and when you combine the criticality of products, assets and operations, maintaining the status quo is tough, let alone taking advantage of the opportunities and moving forward.

The biggest challenge for aviation OEMs is to manage, maintain and control the supply chain in order to output more on a global scale. Manufacturers might be looking to produce the same aircraft on numerous production lines spread around the world. But they need to ensure that the product is manufactured to the same standards in each of those locations. On the shop floor, there has to be a consistent process in place to ensure that workers - and their managers - document and sign for every step of the assembly of an aircraft.

And this is only at entry-into-service level. The aftermarket adds its own complexity, with regular refits and maintenance required to be carried out and documented in line with certification rules. Product data management becomes key, with the need to track and document the movement of every component from one aircraft to another.

At the same time, the industry has had to put measures in place to counter the threats of bogus parts, with the use of uncertified components having led to fatal losses. But meeting regulatory requirements and the need to create an end-to-end pedigree for products can be both costly and time-consuming. The ability to validate processes as well as quickly isolating any materials or products that are out of specification or not genuine, are critical aspects of any quality programme.

To progress, suppliers and manufacturers or integrators need to find ways to make inventory and information interchangeable, to ensure supply chain excellence and full compliance. Having situational awareness of the supply chain means faster reaction times, transforming problem management into risk mitigation.

This reduces the draining consequences of aircraft-on-ground status, where up to $800m of aircraft can be left stranded because of a problem with equipment such as the cabin interior, often completely unrelated to the business of flying. 

Today’s technologies can help operations to monitor, diagnose and resolve asset and equipment issues to decrease downtime and increase supply efficiency. By automating the asset and tool tracking process, they can improve inventory accuracy and reduce associated time and costs of service, and better monitor the movement of equipment and components including identity, time, date and place of movement.

  • Monitor, measure and manage operations in real-time
  • Easier, more efficient management of product assortment
  • Instant traceability of materials, equipment and processes
  • Ability to monitor consistency across production lines

The key to working this way is to give every physical object a digital identity or signature using a combination of mobile computers, barcode printers, scanners, tablets and RFID readers, streamlining processes and reducing supply chain variability. The visibility that results, when incorporated into wider operations, helps to assure compliance, drives product quality and optimises process efficiency. It can support safer working practices, too, with our use of active RFID for monitoring maintenance personnel earning us a Supplier of the Year award from Boeing in 2015.

Learn more about how our technologies support improvements in process compliance by downloading our Smart Manufacturing Compliance eBook.

Topics: Supply Chain, RFID, Barcodes, Manufacturing, EMEA, OEM, aerospace