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Preventing the Next Aviation Disaster Requires Advanced Manufacturing

Recent incidents at Boeing have underscored how outdated processes threaten aerospace manufacturing quality, putting airline manufacturers and consumers at risk.

4 Min Read
aerospace aircraft manufacturing
Gorodenkoff for iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Archaic manual processes are still at work on the aviation factory floor.
  • Manufacturers are beginning to realize the benefits gained by digitizing their operations.
  • The first step is to look at where digital transformation can have the greatest impact.

Over the last several years, the aviation industry has experienced repeated problems in the design and production of their passenger airliners. The latest example has come from Boeing’s 737 Max 9, which terrified passengers when the door plug for its fuselage fell off the aircraft mid-air. The resulting blowback has included back-to-back Congressional hearings on the aircraft maker’s safety culture. For decades, Boeing has led a culture of engineering excellence, becoming the leading producer of commercial aircrafts. But these recent incidents have exposed a major blind spot in manufacturing quality occurring on the shop floor of the world’s largest aerospace and defense (A&D) manufacturers.

Although millions of dollars are spent on sophisticated CAD systems, archaic manual processes are still at work on the factory floor and production is guided by the tribal knowledge of shop floor workers who have been in place for decades. The onus is on aircraft manufacturers to address this issue and modernize through digitization in order to manage production at the factory level to guarantee quality and assign accountability at every stage of production. This is especially true for the vital role of Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) services in the industry.

The good news is manufacturers are beginning to realize the benefits gained by digitizing their operations, including greater agility, safety, visibility, efficiencies and boosted profits.

MRO: The Crucial Linchpin for Aerospace Manufacturing Success

The biggest reason the A&D industry experiences recalls more than others is due to the complex nature of its products and supply chain ecosystem. How mature a company’s MRO operations are has a direct impact on how quickly manufacturers can address an issue if and when it occurs. This is crucial to business as it can take as long as two months to inspect a grounded fleet which, depending on the time of year the recall happens, can result in huge revenue losses.

Safety always comes first in the aviation industry, so grounding and inspecting faulty engines is mission critical the moment an issue arises. While it may be impossible to predict when a malfunction will happen, digitizing MRO operations will help manufacturers safeguard against the next recall. Digitized MRO solutions help manufacturers stay more agile and responsive when a recall happens, allowing them to react to and address the issue quickly while ensuring a high degree of safety. Beyond the agility that a digitized MRO provides, A&D companies are also realizing the positive impact on business operations in general, including greater adherence to compliance and regulatory standards and improved profitability and revenue.

Unlocking Digital MRO's Powerful Advantages

Digital MRO is critical in the A&D industry where products come with a lifetime of scheduled maintenance, repairs, upgrades or overhauls. Not only can digital MRO solutions give airliners the necessary agility in responding to a recall, it can also help companies navigate a complex supply chain system while properly maintaining their products before a mass recall is issued.

Some of the top benefits of digitizing MRO include:

  • Improved Productivity: Digital MRO lets manufacturers streamline planned and non-planned work processes, enhance their supply chain management, increase throughput, and increase profits.

  • Greater Reliability: Manufacturers can standardize and enforce best practices, ensuring work is performed exactly to the planned standard-work steps and instructions.

  • Enhanced Visibility: Especially important in complex discrete manufacturing, greater visibility lets manufacturers better track tooling, parts, labor, and resources, and get real-time insight into performance KPIs, work order status and more.

The 5-Step Game Plan for Implementing Digital MRO

Successfully switching to a digital MRO solution can be challenging. Manufacturers need to plan carefully, invest in the right tools and technologies, and remain committed to the new system. Here are a couple steps manufacturers can take to digitally transform their MRO operations:

  • Evaluate your current MRO operations: The first step is to look at where digital transformation can have the greatest impact. This will likely involve auditing your existing MRO systems, including how you collect and analyze data, asset management, maintenance scheduling, and more.

  • Create a digital strategy: A digital strategy is necessary to successfully implement a digital MRO system. This includes a roadmap for implementation, goals and objectives for how to improve efficiency, reliability, and profitability.

  • Invest in the right tools and technologies: While upfront investments in software, integration, and digital devices such as sensors are significant, the long-term benefits will far outweigh the costs.

  • Employee training: Going from paper-based systems to digitized MRO is a significant jump. Businesses need to prioritize employee training on how to use the new tools and technologies effectively.

  • Measure your progress: Monitoring your progress will ensure your digital transformation is going according to plan. The right systems can help by collecting and analyzing data on KPIs, including maintenance costs, asset uptime, and productivity.

Despite pledges to do better, A&D manufacturers have failed to correct this systemic manufacturing problem and take steps to modernize their systems to close blind spots. There are alarming parallels between this current state of affairs in aerospace and the lack of adequate financial controls that fueled the Enron and WorldCom accounting scandals decades ago. While those scandals resulted in federal mandates and regulations, there is still time and tools available to avoid a similar fate for the A&D industry. The next step is for manufacturers to digitize their operations to ensure the safety of the flying public.

About the Author(s)

Naveen Poonian, CEO at iBase-t


Naveen Poonian is Chief Executive Officer of iBase-t, where he is passionate about driving the company’s overall vision and mission by aligning organizational and departmental objectives. Under his leadership, the company has expanded its rapidly growing aerospace business across France, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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