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Challenges of the 4.0 factory in the aeronautics supply chain

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THE AERONAUTICS SECTOR, SEEN AS A HIGH-TECH INDUSTRY, IS FACING NEW CHALLENGES NOWADAYS. WORLDWIDE GROUPS SUCH AS AIRBUS, DASSAULT OR BOEING HAVE ANTICIPATED THE NECESSITY OF A TRANSFORMATION IN THEIR PRODUCTION MODE IN ORDER TO PROVIDE A PROPER ANSWER TO THE MARKET EXPECTATIONS.

Indeed, aeronautics market is showing a historical growth that represents 4 000 billion euros. Airbus’ order book is full for the ten years to come and the group predicts that the world aircraft fleet should at least double in size in the next twenty years. However, the production speed is too low for aircraft manufacturers to satisfy the demand and they thus need to operate some reforms.

OPTIMIZING PRODUCTION THROUGH AUTOMATIZATION AND TECHNOLOGY
If aeronautics is a sector that uses high-end technology, most of the production tasks are operated by hand when machines only act in assistance.

To address this issue, Airbus launched a smart factory project in 2015 aiming to double the production speed. The company projects to conceive a robot to fix the aircraft doors to the fuselage or use augmented reality to substitute handmade check-up that usually takes several weeks.

However, this transition towards robotics and automated tools has to be integrative for the employees. Training of the staff is planned for people to discover these new tools and more importantly, the role that they will play in their everyday tasks. Airbus CEO explains that introduction has to be progressive since the employees are often reluctant to integrate new working process. The company plans a brainstorming with the staff members so that the tools answer properly their needs instead of being simply imposed to them.

FLUIDIFY EXTERNALIZATION PROCESS
In order to reduce costs and improve the quality of each item, aircraft manufacturers have called on subtractors, some of them working exclusively with one manufacturer. If the advantages of these partnerships are more than obvious, the weakening of the supply chain especially in the control process and real-time information transmission are one of the down sides.

To that extend, WEVIOO and EURODECISION decided to build digital solutions aimed to improve the aeronautics supply chain. [1]

On one side, Wevioo international group’s expertise in consulting and numerical services conceives the operational part of the project. Having Airbus, Thales and Zodiac Aerospace on their customer list, the company wants to study the industrials’ needs and offer a digital answer that is functional. On the other side, Eurodecision uses its competencies in decisional mathematics to conceive algorithms at the heart of these tools. Key aspects of the supply chain are targeted such as primary resources affectation in different factories or timelines compliance. Moreover, the offered system will integrate artificial intelligence able to identify the supply chain needs and uncertainties. Instruction provider, the system will have the capacity to reorganize teams on its own and address the supply chain issues.

CONNECTIVITY AND COLLABORATION
In terms of logistics, the recent complexification of the production and supply chain seem to be inhibiting the deadline compliance and the quality requirements. The lack of communication and common process between suppliers and decision-makers tends to extend the timelines.

In a complex supply chain, information is only partly transmitted and the follow-up is interrupted by a constant back and forth, slowing both parties down. Moreover, the tools dedicated to the information transmission are not up-to-date leading then to a connectivity issue.

To answer those needs, it is necessary to integrate suppliers to the production process, and this starting from the conception of a project. One can envision multi-field teams whose combined skills on a single production stage could control the progress and unseal malfunctions. It is often on this very last case that timelines get extended because of information transmission issues and the incapacity to react on time to solve malfunctions[2].

Nevertheless, suppliers and decision-makers have to rethink their relation. Linear exchanges won’t be possible anymore and would have to be transversal and collaborative. This implies substantial investment especially in terms of trust, the protection of each party’s interests being more difficult to establish. Security in such a crucial domain is indeed a major concern.

Moreover, connected tools are being tested to assist the whole production and supply chain. A way for each party to follow-up the stages in real time regarding of the distance. This is the main improvement since the follow-up and the transmission tool are reunited in one. The way employees perceive these changes are still an issue along with the information security since these tools could be vulnerable to cyber-attacks and industrial espionage.

INNOVATION, AND THEN?
Regarding technological improvements, a major challenge mentioned before by Airbus CEO is still to face: that is assimilation. How to help teams and impacted services to deal with new tools and methods?

This is clearly a company transformation issue that needs a change management approach. New inputs necessarily impact employees, team management, operational tasks and working process in the organization. To introduce organizational high-impact assets, choosing the right approach is essential:

Analyzing the impacts at every level of the organization
Implying the players in building the change management strategy
Communicating the strategy & train the teams
Supervising the establishment of the strategy in an integrative manner

[1] https://www.voxlog.fr/actualite/3337/eurodecision-et-wevioo-s-associent-pour-repondre-aux-defis-de-l-industrie-aeronautique

[2] https://www.usinenouvelle.com/article/les-enjeux-de-transformation-de-la-supply-chain-a-l-ere-de-l-industrie-4-0.N780529

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