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The grounding of airplanes across the globe is having a profound ripple effect on the aerospace and defense industry, not only from a commercial standpoint but a behavioral standpoint, too. Questions arise about how A&D manufacturing will tackle the decrease in demand, how governments will determine which sectors receive aid, and how airlines will manage their restart once the threat is over.

Prior to the global pandemic, the challenges of the industry included steadily increasing manufacturing rates, cost reductions, and the incorporation of new products and innovations. These challenges still remain. But the onslaught of COVID-19 has only emphasized old challenges and introduced new ones. Global supply chains are forever changed, and businesses are more strapped for cash than ever before. So, how can aerospace manufacturing plants quickly adapt today to ensure they are prepared for what’s to come tomorrow?

Three fundamental areas of focus

For starters, a growing dependency on technology has exposed the need for IT to have a seat at the table, and companies are focusing on investing in manufacturing execution systems (MES) and digitizing their supply chains. Traditionally, manufacturing is measured by the effective throughput staying within the cost profile. At the same time, all decisions must equally account for agility, sustainability and efficiency. As there are many contributing factors, it is critical to have manufacturing insights, updated instructions, and optimized information into operations.

Without real-time insights, it is difficult to make operational improvements. If you look at any methodology, whether LEAN, KAIZEN or AGILE, each method bases manufacturing decisions on data. It is critical that the data is presented in the format and context of the specific consumer. For instance, the operator who needs to execute the daily work plan has a different need for the same set of data that an executive needs to decide budget requests.

Deeper Insights

Manufacturing insights enabled by advanced technologies provides the visibility, KPIs and graphical depiction based on capabilities to integrate to the shop floor equipment. This digital connection is critical because having the visibility of the individual steps allows manufacturers to manage the overall operations on a deeper, more wholistic level. As more automation on the shop floor occurs, manufacturers must have ways to monitor the flow and the quality levels. This is critical to embrace a fully automated shop floor that can thrive in the Industry 4.0 era

Digitized Instructions

Up to date instructions are critical as design or part availability fluctuates frequently, especially in today’s challenging environment. These changes are even more complex when we examine how today’s environment is impacting how operators work on the shop floor. Due to lay-offs and early retirement programs, manufacturing companies are facing a changing workforce. With replacing these employees, the hiring of new workers becomes risky if there is not a seamless and reliable process for knowledge transfer that ensures accurate information on parts, tools, and work instructions.

Additionally, as you can imagine, social distancing requirements create operational challenges for a high-functioning shop floor. However, the use of digital and visual work instructions can limit the need to bring workers too close to each other while still sharing information. Equipping shop floor workers with the right information in a safe manner can only be done with the support of an integrated manufacturing execution system that integrates to the ERP with the optimization needed to address issues such as shortages on parts, labor or tools occur or when quality problems arise.

Dependable Information

Optimized information of manufacturing operations requires manufacturers to have updated data points on constraints. The constraints can come from the supply chain, quality, labor and tooling / machine availability. Since any change in constraints can throw off planning, an orchestration must be in place that reaches across the entire value stream to effectively communicate these changes.

In the COVID-19 recovery period, we can continue to expect constraints like supply chain disruptions as companies will change their ability to deliver by committed dates. Further, with the unpredictability of the global pandemic, maintenance of machines, tools and equipment will need to align to a fluctuating workload. This requires an integration between the manufacturing planning and execution as well as the plant maintenance operations. All of these traditionally siloed processes will need to come together with a focus on business outcome if aerospace and defense manufacturers want to ensure they can adequately plan for the unknown– mid to long term.

For your aerospace and defense business to run an effective manufacturing plant in the next normal, it will take a reframing to see this once chaotic time as an opportunity to take your business to the next level. For more on how industry leaders are responding to constant change, listen to Newport News Shipbuilding's CIO discuss how they’re digitizing their supply chain and rethinking the management of their 3,500 suppliers across 48 of the 50 United States.
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