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How to radically evolve manufacturing processes in a risk-adverse industry
The aerospace industry is committed to reliability and safety and is generally very risk adverse when it comes to adopting new technologies. This is rapidly changing, however: today, the aerospace industry needs to dramatically increase its production rate to deliver an unprecedented large order book. At the same time, the industry faces continued cost and environmental pressure, as airlines demand ever better-performing and cheaper aircraft to confront fierce competition on cost by low-cost airlines.
Agile manufacturing to win in a changing market
In late 2014, Boeing launched its Partnership for Success (PFS) program, aiming at achieving 15% to 25% cost reduction from its suppliers. This alone requires a new supply chain organisation. Other practices such as lean manufacturing, increased risk sharing for suppliers as well as integrated supply chain systems derived from the automotive industry put even more pressure on the supply chain. So the only way out seems to be a rapid transformation.
Initiatives to shorten lead time and lower costs at the same time have been successful.
- The market leader for aircraft engines, General Electric introduced in 2013 its Fastworks initiative derived from the lean startup concept. Historically, it had taken 10 to 20 years to introduce a new materials system into an aircraft engine. Thanks to its Fastworks initiative, it now only takes a couple of years.
- Airbus Helicopter launched its brand new H160 Helicopter in 2016, implementing complete modular manufacturing in a new facility in France, aiming at 50% shorter in-process production cycle time.
Disrupting traditional investment casting manufacturing
One of the limiting factors for reducing emissions is the ability for modern aircraft turbines to cope with operating temperatures in excess of 2,500 °F (1,370 °C), up from temperatures around 1,500 °F (820 °C) in early aircraft turbines. This requires ever more advanced cooled blades and vane components. Traditionally, these components are cast using inflexible, long-lead time and expensive injection molding tools. However, the OEM aircraft engine industry’s immediate need for design freedom, shorter product life cycles and lower costs requires process innovation put in practice.
The 3D metal printing technologies used to manufacture non-rotating structural aviation components or repairs are no alternative because of the required metallurgical quality and strict process qualification for these rotating parts. But leveraging existing best-in-class digital methods as a process new to the industry can help improve the business: 3D modelling and advanced machining can dramatically shorten time-to-market, lower non-recurring engineering costs and provide our customers with the necessary design freedom. In a recent project, one OEM reduced its lead times by 50% while one-time costs went down by 90%.
Putting Process Innovation in Practice
Understanding customers’ shifting priorities and key levers is certainly a critical starting point. More important though is our capability as an organization to provide rapidly tangible solutions to serve these rapidly evolving market needs. In doing so, being prepared to shift organization structure to attract and retain talent is key. In my experience, this approach can be leveraged across industries:
- Secure impact by defining razor-sharp, focused innovation project scope
- Get disruption value from the smart combination of existing best-in-class practices
- Partner with third-party experts to augment your innovation capabilities
- Obtain results quickly along build-measure-learn as per lean start-up methods
- Evolve your organization, attract talent to deliver your new core competencies
Implementing this type of process innovation is not reserved for large corporations only. Also small and medium-sized businesses can truly benefit from this approach. In order to do so, it is necessary (and often the most difficult step) to challenge established processes and practices. Once done, scope out a project, start small – but keep the big picture in mind – and share your experience in discussion with your peers within and outside your industry. As an experienced industry professional, I am more convinced than ever before that the rapidly changing and complex business environment can only be managed though openness and knowledge sharing with your peers.
The author: Hervé Flutto is an executive engaged in Entrepreneurship and Business Transformation. With 20 years of experience across various industries, he is dedicated to driving commercial, technical and process innovation to rejuvenate businesses. He has a proven track record working across global organizations to establish new capabilities from scratch in restructuring and high-growth environments. He has managed industrial and start-up businesses across multiple geographies spanning Europe, the US, Japan, China, India and South America. He likes to share his business acumen and fund-raising experience as a coach with entrepreneurs and start-ups.