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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Supply chains: Quality is job 1

    18 June 2014, 1:15 p.m.

    by Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications

    AviationSupplyChainPanel_18June14When you think aerospace, you think engines, wings and planes; you don’t normally think about the way all of the parts got there. But you should. Supply chains are a critical part of aerospace – if they don’t work, nothing works. That was the message from today’s panel on “Global Supply Chain Challenges and Opportunities” at the AIAA AVIATION 2014 Forum in Atlanta, Ga.

    Moderating the hour-long discussion was Trevor Stansbury, president of Supply Dynamics. Panelists Duane Hawkins, senior vice president, supply chain, Spirit AeroSystems, and Kurt Miller, program management–subcontract director at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, discussed the ongoing challenges of supply chain management and the ways the aerospace industry drives changes in the chains.

    The panelists identified the three biggest opportunities in supply chains today. First is the spirit of innovation within the aerospace industry itself, which continually evolves the need for more materials, keeping the chain primed and ready to go. Second is the growing automation in the industry, a trend that allows cheaper production and has enabled a revolution in design and manufacturing by lowering costs and increasing quality. The third is big data, which can give companies a better understanding of how their processes work, what is performing, where the mistakes are, and what needs fixing.

    Among the biggest challenges to supply chains, according to the panel, is the speed with which business gets done these days. The faster pace means suppliers have to ramp up chains quickly, which makes quality assurance difficult. Hawkins explained that the quick starts mean “it’s all about making the proper investments to match the rate of demand.” Another challenge, he said, is on the design side – as designs drive demand, they must become more producible. Hawkins explained that “less producible designs drive manufacturing outside the company, which puts quality and delivery at risk.”

    Miller said another big challenge comes from quality management in the sub-tier of suppliers: “If you look through the data, the root is not the first-tier supplier, it’s the second and third tiers that impact quality and cause problems, and that worries me – what can we do to improve that management discipline?”

    Both panelists identified consolidation as another threat –as small businesses are bought out, there is a less diverse set of suppliers. “During the transition we lose performance, for whatever reason,” said Miller.

    Additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, was deemed both a challenge and an opportunity. An opportunity because it allows for better manufacturing with fewer parts, and a challenge because it reduces the numbers of parts in items – meaning less supply is needed.

    It was evident from the discussion that as aerospace grows and the trends toward globalization and consolidation continue, international supply chain issues, quality assurance, and the addition of new technology to the process will remain key considerations for aerospace going forward.

    The final message from the panel was also the most important, said Miller: “Quality assurance is number 1. Quality drives the schedule [and] the cost. So absolutely, quality is job 1!”


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