In the early 1900s, the world had just started moving horizontally in Ford cars made on the assembly line. Notwithstanding the existing technological constraints, the Wright brothers had designed and manufactured a disruptive innovation that literally had them up in the air. Within not even the next two decades itself, airplanes were designed and manufactured not just to fly humans safely, but were also capable of reconnaissance and bombing during the World War I. Did the yesteryear’s aero-technologists never worry about producibility? Or is it that the boons of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Model Based Engineering (MBE) have now turned into a bane by polarizing the current aero-engineering talent with ‘we design it – you build it’ mindset?
Aerospace technologists and industrialists have never been bogged down by hurdles. By leveraging technology, manpower and the indomitable spirit of making things possible they have designed dreams into feasible pieces of engineering excellence. Hence, from the very inception itself, the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) sector is intrinsically reliant on technological advancements. However, with the multifarious advancements in every single technology related to building a ‘flight-ready-airplane’ in the last three decades, there is a felt need for systematic knowledge management. Put simply, aerospace product development has become so complicated that it has overtly functionalized and specialized the engineering teams behind it. Consequently, with the evolving design groups drifting away from manufacturing groups, the resulting equipment is not always designed for economical production. Moreover, fueled by explosive global economic growth, the current demand for new engines and airplanes has quadrupled over the current inventory with the aging fleets being replaced by new airliners. This means there is also a need to accelerate efficient and error-free manufacturing and maintenance with the added clause of minimizing costs.
Hence, Producibility is a characteristic innate to a product’s design signifying ease and economy of manufacture. It is the ability to manufacture as designed, with the preferred quality, at the chosen time and at the anticipated cost.
As the variables of quality, quantity, cost and functionality based design are defining the manufacturing feasibility or Producibility of any aero-product, then production nonconformances comprise only a fraction of the whole picture. Even variables such as manpower, the machine’s capability to produce parts, overdue parts, delayed deliveries or average lead times should be measured to assess this new dimension of producibility.
However, with the ‘glocal’ nature of today’s A&D corporations and suppliers, ensuring all these variables to successfully design and manufacture at the desired scale and quality has often increased the nonconformance management cost. Factors such as increased global competition, resource constraints, increasing pressure from management and shareholders have unfortunately made it even more difficult for manufacturing engineers and central operations managers to deliver key projects – on time, on budget, and within quality expectations. Even there can be unforeseen issues before, during, and also after production. Nevertheless, it is imperative for these companies to meet their targeted shipments to avoid piling work in progress inventory, dissatisfied customers and stressed employees. These events drain the best resources, dent productivity, and consume significant management bandwidth. Millions of dollars of engineering resources are being squandered each day, not to mention the intangible opportunity cost of what could have been – better-engineered products.
Adding to these challenges is the fact that companies usually cannot increase headcount or use traditional offshore outsourcing models. However, even if they could hire, finding the right engineers is particularly challenging today. Research shows that in the overall manufacturing industry, more than 2.7 million baby boomers are expected to retire by the year 2025, a number that includes top aerospace engineers as well. Two million of those vacancies are expected go unfilled, in part due to a lack of qualified engineers, declines in STEM programs, and a millennial workforce that may be unwilling to consider the engineering positions in the manufacturing industry to begin their careers. With all these variables, aka challenges or constraints, the only silver-bullet strategy for A&D companies is to create an environment where dedicated engineering resources work within a managed services model that maximizes productivity while minimizing costs.
At QuEST Global’s Producibility Center of Excellence, the multi-discipline team focuses on both reactive and proactive work streams. Starting from the autonomous technical judgment of nonconformances to drawing change requests from both internal and external suppliers, QuEST manages the overall process while assuring a quick turnaround for engineering assessments to minimize their adverse impact. Additionally, production data is used to find producibility improvements in areas of engineering and manufacturing. For engineering, QuEST utilizes our product and design process knowledge to implement changes in the product design or definition. When the issues are not design driven, QuEST uses our manufacturing engineers to derive better inspection methods and production processes, as well as find ways to reduce assembly errors.
While deploying this solution as a fully managed, global service, QuEST has created robust internal processes, including a visual management tool for communication priority and status, assessment and change templates, and a web-based KPI tracking tool. Moreover, with a local-global delivery model that guarantees the ‘boots-on-ground’ approach whenever needed, QuEST has co-located Integrated Project Teams that work with Concurrent Engineering practices while owning the Design Approval Delegation. If you are also looking for a trusted engineering partner with proven experience to decode the producibility conundrum for your design and manufacturing to work in tandem, talk to us at the upcoming Farnborough Air Show 2018 at Hall 1 Booth #1570.