Aerospace And Defense Manufacturing In The Future

While all aircraft have many general features, not all subsystems, assemblies, or components are proper for every aircraft design.

FREMONT, CA: In the Aerospace and Defense product market, accurate mass production is a rare thing to encounter. It occurs in limited areas, such as munitions and commercial products used in the Aerospace and Defense space, like fasteners, connectors, or other standard components.

However, growing cost pressures and a world market that demands ever-increasing customization are causing the entire Aerospace and Defense industry to look at how products are manufactured and assembled. Looking at technological solutions to restrict variation or eradicate handwork is insufficient.

There are a few immutable facts regarding aircraft production. First and foremost is global aircraft quantity; about 25,000 to 26,000 commercial aircraft were working pre-Covid-19. This interprets to about 1000-1500 total aircraft produced by significant OEMs annually; compare this to the global number of automobiles (many millions) or the yearly production quantity of one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers.

The situation is evident that aircraft necessity is a few orders of magnitude less than automotive so mass production economics have to be cautiously examined to find appropriate solutions. Inherent fact number two, not as many subsystems can be employed on each aircraft model as some think. For instance, each airplane model is distinct and needs concrete equipment to fly safely and perform appropriately.

No one would suggest mounting an anaileron actuator sized for a small subsonic airplane to an aileron for a wide-body passenger aircraft flying trans-sonic velocities; the physics don’t work. While all aircraft have a lot in general, from the example above, not all subsystems, assemblies, or components are proper for every aircraft design. This fact also limits our industry’s ability to standardize products that address each aircraft’s unique requirements.

“The goal is the relentless pursuit of all techniques and technological advancements that enable economic ‘customized’ standardization.”

There is stress for tier 1, 2, and 3 suppliers in the Aerospace & Defense marketplace to leverage usual elements to attain better cost outcomes. While this is normal market pressure, as outlined above, this does require some new thinking and innovation.

To achieve long-term competitiveness, it is my view that Aerospace and Defense manufacturers need to address product design and development to steer these highly specialized ‘custom’ designs towards solutions that support automated or semi-automated capabilities using known successful manufacturing processes inclusive of adopting proven mass production processes such as Advanced Product Quality Planning to the complete process of bringing products to life physically.

The aim is the relentless pursuit of all techniques and technological advancements that permit economic ‘customized’ standardization. Envision a future wherein the idea of product architecture patterns and model-based system engineering processes drive design teams about proven and understood product and system architectures that have been verified and validated by the operations community to be prosperous in the manufacturing arena.

Envision live response for design engineers as they pattern product features to influence those designs with production capability metrics (Cpk) as these characteristics are designed, and tolerances applied.

As manufacturing, assembly, or inspection capabilities alter, these capability metrics are also revised as the best reflection of current reality to influence the products to be manufactured next. Imagine designing a manifold to feed that manifold through an automated manufacturing cell with specific size, tool packages, and mechanical inspection capabilities.

The design rules restrict the design engineer in an effort not to violate the cell capabilities to preserve efficiency. It’s not that something distinct cannot be done. Still, the design engineer needs to know when a standard ability has been exceeded and the consequences of making that decision.

It is another truth that not every design engineer inherently sees when the process capabilities of every manufacturing process have been exceeded; therefore, a competent feedback mechanism is essential for a standard capable cell of features to be executable in the real world.

All the components are proven in the ultimate test: successful production over many similar parts, all utilizing well-understood elements. If the engineer understands the consequence of a decision, the design can be better balanced and either altered or the cell capacity enhanced. It becomes a business decision at that moment.

The vision of the future defined above is in diverse stages of realization at Moog and others, but this is what we need to pursue to understand customized standardization; we have to drive standardization to the feature level, not the end product, drive products to known, proven system architectures that are thus able to be standardized—integrating automated cells, automated inspection, or semi-automation as appropriate needs to be applied when and where it ‘earns it way’ onto the production line and maybe paced at times by technology advancements for peculiar applications such as minimal O-ring installation.

Incorporating in-process test and real-time results feedback into the production process to automate or set limits for future operation steps yield much better total system performance; this is particularly true for high-performance subsystems or components such as hydraulic servo control valves.

As new technologies like additive manufacturing turn certified for use in aerospace applications such as flight safety-critical products, these may be adopted but, again, have to ‘earn their way onto the production line either by improved capability, quality, or cost: the preference being a combination of all three.

Across, we have to apply solid and known processes. Although the products may never reach mass production quantities or economics, this is the path to what I believe is the lowest cost and highest quality aerospace products.

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