The aerospace manufacturing supply chain is doing its best to keep up with orders for new aircraft. The parts are good. The top tier firms and their subcontractors have a much better understanding of the machine tool tech requirements to machine the hard metals and the highly abrasive composite materials specified.
But the volume of completed parts on an annual basis is not quite there yet; there’s still a significant gap between the annual production rate of aircraft and jet engine deliveries to date and what’s been projected. There are simply not enough qualified machine tools in the chain to meet demand for new airliners.
As a manufacturing technology provider to both the OEMs and their top-tier suppliers, our lead times are affected in this scenario, too. Many of the machines we provide have certain aspects of customization for the application and for the standardization attributes that some customers request. For example, customization may be the table and spindle size and type and additional proprietary aspects. As much as we can anticipate orders to get components made in advance and build our inventory for those, we can only get so far in our production until the specifications for the particular finished machine are known.
With high-precision, dedicated equipment for aerospace parts, there are properties that simply cannot be rushed, such as the master skill of hand scraping the mating surfaces and hand fitting components during assembly.
Wherever you fit into the aerospace industry, you may be in a similar conundrum. There’s a challenge ahead for all the players–OEMs, tier suppliers and vendors to both. With not only the lack of qualified spindles currently in production but also the reduction in human resources–many machinists are facing retirement in the next few years–there could be a “perfect storm” brewing in the industry. Yet there’s also an opportunity, now, to help dispel the squall.
There’s a shift happening in manufacturing. There’s a strong push toward smart factories. Automation and data are kings. Efficiency is the kingdom. Once it’s “all systems go” in a contract, production is streamlined and effective with advanced technology.
It is what happens before the chips fly that needs a shift now, and that involves the communication chain with people so that we can prepare for what’s to come.
No one wants to go out on a limb for an order that might happen, and there are wise proprietary reasons to keep information shrouded. However, if participants in the chain are informed at the proposal stages of new aircraft programs and the proprietary advance technology that surround them, it could vastly improve delivery times and save costs.
In our case, we’d have a clearer understanding of the timeline and tech requirements and thus the types of machine models to queue up in our factory. It would help us reduce our longer lead-time components.
Sometimes, too, entirely new technologies and methods need to be developed. Remember 15 years ago when no one knew how to cut Ti5553 efficiently? The need for a lot of people to know it was about five years after that. Thankfully, we were brought into the research early with the OEM and that knowledge is paying dividends to large and small shops.
More recently, a Tier One came to us well in advance of receiving the official order but possessed enough facts and wherewithal to share the challenges with a team of engineers representing our company, the CAM software company and the cutting tool vendor. The walls could have been plastered with the NDAs and we were all happy to oblige. Together we worked through the process details and engineered the solution. Once the contract came through, we were all able to act quickly, saving months in equipment delivery time, proving out programming and cutting tool development in the meantime.
The reduction in the cost and time of the new product introduction was such that the customer has engaged us to do an encore performance for other new programs.
As the production aspects of manufacturing are shifting in such a “smart” way, let’s also be smarter about when and what happens before the cycle start button is pushed. Let’s collaborate earlier in the life of aviation programs to narrow the delivery gap. Let’s talk.