Zero defect manufacturing in the supply chain

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In the final instalment of this three-part series on Farnborough Airshow, I will look at one of the most topical issues in the aerospace supply chain right now – zero defect manufacturing.

Thanks to the growing demand for aircraft, there has been a marked move away from the World War II mentality in the last few years, where minor defects were tolerated in the production line in order to get planes into service faster. The faults could then be addressed and repaired in routine maintenance at a later date. The modern aerospace supply chain favors defect prevention over defect correction, but what are the key drivers for this?

Supply chain pile up

There are reports that major backlogs are set to impact both Boeing and Airbus over the next decade, with pressure on the supply chain to deliver aircraft only going to grow.

Capacity is already stretched and suppliers are struggling to keep pace with the surge, resulting in billions of dollars’ worth of inventory sitting in parking bays. This has already played out in dramatic fashion this year in the interiors market, with serious output delays being reported by a major OEM. But this is indicative of the pressures felt across the wider supply chain.

With lucrative contracts at stake, suppliers cannot afford to let the slightest defect impact their reputation and bottom line; with the cost of missed deadlines incredibly high. Of course, at low volumes, defects can be managed, but when demand for aircraft is so high, this becomes unsustainable.

On top of this, there are also stringent safety requirements and exacting standards that have to be met for each flight. Pressure is therefore on OEMs to deliver vast amounts of product in very short time spans, to perfection; and efficiencies along the supply chain must be gained if this is to be achieved.

The impact of zero defect manufacturing

We need to look no further than the automotive industry to see the positive impact that zero defect manufacturing can have on the production line, such as reduced material waste, decreased production costs and more efficient designs. Though there is an initial upfront investment to correct defunct processes and get them to the optimal stage of production, the long-term benefits are significant. For instance, due to the fact that fewer design iterations are needed, significant time savings can be gained, meaning the product lifecycle is reduced and components get to market far quicker than before.

The aerospace supply chain must now take learnings from the automotive industry if it is to realize the same benefits. Exhaustive testing remains an incredibly expensive process and there is the potential to inject value into the supply chain by reducing the need for this.

The dramatic rise in aircraft demand is having a major impact on the A&D supply chain, and the words that will be front of mind for suppliers attending Farnborough will be: quality, quality, quality. Innovations that can support and connect the supply chain in these efforts, and move it towards a nirvana-state of zero defect production therefore, will be hot property at Farnborough, as OEMs look to increase programs and engage partners for help.

About Tom Edwards

Tom Edwards is president of North America operations and aerospace at Cyient. He joined Cyient (then Infotech) in 2010, assuming responsibility for sales and relationships at its largest customer, United Technologies Corporation. In 2013, Edwards was named president of Cyient North America, where he maintains responsibility for UTC and for Cyient’s North American operations.

Prior to Cyient, Edwards had a 26-year sales career at IBM, where he rose to global channel sales leader in the system technology division, responsible for innovative programs designed to accelerate the sale of complex data storage systems through IBM’s industry resellers.

Edwards graduated from Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY, with degrees in management and marketing. He now serves on the Town of New Fairfield Board of Finance – an elected position in New Fairfield, Connecticut.

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