It’s a simple statement and likely not a surprise to those involved in the aerospace industry. Aerospace is driven by technology, without it we’d still be on the ground. However, are aerospace businesses exploiting the advantages provided by advanced manufacturing?
Why is it important? After all, isn’t advanced manufacturing just one of those marketing buzz concepts that really doesn’t mean anything important?
Perhaps, but, let’s talk about it in another way, let’s talk about your goals. What makes aerospace manufacturing special?
- Product complexity – Aerospace products are typically highly configurable, highly engineered and expensive. In many cases they are fabricated from exotic materials not used in any other industry. Their performance requirements make configuration and composition extremely critical. All manner of environmental and material handling variables affect the processes used to sell and build these products
What does this mean? It means automation of configuration process and equipping it to idiot proof specifications as they relate to the configuration and use of the product. It means assuring the right materials are used for the environment in which the product will be used. But, ultimately it means you can’t sell or build a guided missile, a spacecraft or an airplane using the same level of care with which you would build a can opener.
- Process Complexity– The actual processes used to fabricate, build, package and deliver aerospace products demand planning and control systems equal to the challenge of aerospace manufacturing. This means highly specialised variants of ERP, Engineering Change Management, Product Data Management and supporting strategies such as Six Sigma, Lean, Robotics and other technologies.
The whole technology of making things is rapidly changing. Additive manufacturing, laser and water-cutting tools, robotics and highly evolved manufacturing execution systems. These provide great flexibility but also additional complexity within the daily processes driving the manufacture of product.
- Workforce– There is a tendency to forget about the people involved in the product processes in advanced manufacturing. The perception that “everything is automated” is dangerously inaccurate. Special materials, special processes and special uses of the resulting products mean that the people associated with the production process, the configuration and sales process and certainly after sale support have to be knowledgeable and educated in the esoteric disciplines related to these variables.
- Customer Driven– Aerospace products in many cases have long life spans and the purchases of a given product means there will be a long association between vendor, manufacturer and customer. Much of this may be contractually driven meaning the complexities of highly detailed contract will need to be integrated into the execution of fulfilling that contract. This includes a substantial amount of regulatory compliance and reporting.
Advanced manufacturing is a term that applies to the product built, the processes used, the people involved and the relationship required. Aerospace is as demanding a marketplace as any, addressing that market requires more than just a plan, funding, and innovative ideas; Aerospace requires advanced manufacturing in the most complete sense of the word.