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Mahindra Aerostructures is in its 4th year of serial production for global customers. As a recent entrant into this demanding industry, one of our priorities has been to establish sound industrial processes alongside a mindset of continuous improvement. This is essential to implement best practices from other manufacturing industries and to continuously sharpen our competitive edge. Here, we are sharing a few thoughts on this interesting subject.
A Transformative Journey
Those who are familiar with the aerospace industry are aware that it involves production of low- volume, high-value parts, employing traditional manufacturing methods and production planning. In contrast, the automotive industry lies at the other end of the spectrum, where high volumes and aggressive competition drive manufacturers to eliminate every possible form of inefficiency. This in turn has given rise to excellent tools and methods to improve productivity and reduce costs.
In recent years, the aerospace industry has begun to recognize the value of applying this mindset to its operations. Global OEMs have also understood the need to inculcate this change in their supply partners and are ready to provide support. A focused and empowered Continuous Improvement team is required to implement the change on the ground.
As with any transformation, this process is intense and packed with challenges, and the key element is to stay on course and persevere. There may be initial resistance to change — but even the most experienced aerospace worker will become a change champion once they see the benefits of adopting these best practices. Small early successes become enablers of longer- term changes, leading to bigger successes.
A Quick Look at Some Continuous Improvement Processes
There are multiple tools available in the Continuous Improvement world. These tools need to be selected or prioritized based on the organization’s current requirement. Here are three tools that we perceive could be particularly useful in aerospace manufacturing.
Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP)
APQP has been a staple of the industry since the 1980s, when it was developed for the ‘Big Three’ of the American automobile industry: Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. It has since become the default standard
throughout the automotive supply chain. APQP provides a structured framework that leads teams from production concepts through feasibility analysis and demonstration through initial production batches, until all technical challenges and process inefficiencies are ironed out.
In the aerospace industry, although volumes are smaller, the higher value of parts makes it attractive to apply APQP from the time the organization receives product data from customers through the first few production lots. Use of APQP ensures that inputs from all stakeholders including customers are collected through each stage of the New Product Development (NPD) cycle till stable production state is reached.
The APQP framework in this industry can ensure early identification of risks and challenges in meeting program requirements. This in turn ensures that they can be mitigated well before commencing full-scale production. APQP’s benefits for aerospace manufacturing are centered around reducing the time to full-rate production as well as reducing the cost of multiple iterations during new product launches.
The best thing about continuous improvement is that it is truly continuous in an industry where product mix and production volumes are dynamic and customer expectations are high, continuous improvement can be a continuing way of life
While APQP enables efficient launch of new products into the workflow, the ‘Lean’ philosophy eliminates waste throughout the supplier’s value stream. Lean is also a practice perfected in the automotive industry and is applicable across all manufacturing domains.
The heart of Lean is to map and then progressively eliminate losses at every stage of the process from PO receipt to parts delivery. Lean practitioners use the acronym ‘DOWNTIME’ – standing for Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non-utilized talents, Transportation, Inventory, Movement, and Excess processing – also called eight types of losses.
”APQP offers a structured approach for the entire product lifecycle with timely feedback from all stakeholders”
Key Lean strategies that can be considered are Kaizen, Visual Controls, Value Stream Mapping (VSM), Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), and 5S. TPM, for instance, allows companies to predict foreseeable machine breakdowns and identify factors such as avoidable delays and process bottlenecks, moving from a breakdown maintenance mindset to a predictive maintenance mindset. Similarly, VSM reduces production lead-time by enabling progressive elimination of delays and non-value adding steps across the production cycle.
Maynard Operation Sequence Technique (MOST)
MOST is another great tool that aerospace organizations can adopt from the automotive world.
Aerospace manufacturers typically handle a large variety of parts on the shop floor. The manufacturing of each type of part can involve batch-mode and sequential-mode operations, as well as machine-based and manual processes. Batch sizes may also vary between successive customer orders.
Defining standard production lead times in such circumstances is a challenge, and a key question remains unanswered — ‘Is my organization producing efficiently?’ MOST is a useful tool in such environments by providing a structured way to “chunk” down each process into its basic steps, which are then standardized across the organization. MOST thus complements VSM by defining standard work times for each activity and in the process helps to identify further opportunities to eliminate wastage.
These are just three tools in the Continuous Improvement toolkit, and of course each manufacturer should pick the right tools for their circumstances. The best thing about Continuous Improvement is that it is truly Continuous in an industry where product mix and production volumes are dynamic and customer expectations are high, Continuous Improvement can be a continuing way of life.