The aerospace and defense industries are some of the most highly regulated business sectors, with requirements that impact operators, suppliers, and other third-party manufacturing partners. To help coordinate activity across the entire supply chain, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) was established. This organization provides important documentation to help ensure compliance and assist companies in achieving a high benchmark for product and service quality.
Aerospace parts suppliers have an especially challenging task of not only meeting the regulatory requirements but also providing complete traceability for their products. The ability to track parts is necessary for the airline and defense industries due to the high stakes associated with a potential product failure. In this post, we’ll review five important ways that aerospace manufacturers can improve traceability within their operations. Regularly pursuing incremental improvements can have a dramatic impact on Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) operations for suppliers, customers, and their partners.
1. Become AS 9100 Certified
While AS 9100 certification is not a specific requirement, it is highly recommended throughout the aerospace and defense industries. The traceability process included in these regulations follows a “Plan-Do-Check-Act” framework for tracing each component back to its point of origin. In many cases, the customers of an aerospace supplier may highly influence the company’s decision to pursue certification. This is especially true for suppliers that provide parts to federal organizations such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The AS 9100 quality standards are based upon ISO:9001 and represent industry best practices for safety and high-quality manufacturing processes. Each company must choose the exact way in which to align production capabilities with the requirements specified in the documentation. To reduce the risk associated with product failures, a company should streamline its processes in a way that provides auditors and customers with complete part-level visibility throughout the production, assembly, upkeep, and decommissioning phases of the product life cycle.
2. Implement Real-Time Document Tracking
One of the key tenets of traceability is being able to find product information when you need it. Any delays can result in equipment downtime and lost revenue for customers. Since the typical aerospace supplier must work with several industry partners, it is important to coordinate document and part tracking to ensure there is no failure during hand-offs.
Documentation can now be managed in digital work systems that provide redundancy to data plates and printed documentation that accompanies any shipments. Tracking documents in real-time helps logistics coordinators ensure that the right documentation is present at the right points in the supply chain. This not only speeds up the process but also reduces additional work that must be done by staff to find and secure the right paperwork.
3. Invest in Modern Software Systems
With the high degree of visibility that modern Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms provide, it’s no surprise that they have become a critical resource for aerospace manufacturers. These systems integrate compliance, production, and quality functions in a way that is especially useful for traceability purposes. With a modern ERP system, a company can manage supplier policies, coordinate regulatory needs, and develop end-to-end traceability for each part.
Another important software program for many aerospace manufacturers is the Manufacturing Execution System (MES). Many suppliers are now taking advantage of 3D printing technology by implementing additive manufacturing (AM) processes. Using AM adds additional tracking complexity due to the need for prototyping and the creation of streamlined processes. Manufacturers that pursue additive manufacturing practices can often benefit from the use of an MES system to supplement ERP tracking and traceability.
4. Optimize System Audits
All aerospace manufacturers must maintain a rigorous audit schedule to ensure that their products and organizational capabilities are performing as expected. In addition to specific regulatory requirements, it is also recommended to fully verify ERP software functions and any other systems used to automate inventory and resource management. It can be easy to focus on optimization and improvements while missing some fundamental checks. Reviewing and improving your audit checklists will help you more easily identify potential points of failure within the entire operation.
5. Assess Future Tracking Technologies
One certainty for manufacturers of all types is that technology will only continue to evolve. Several emerging capabilities show great promise for improving the quality of traceability in the aerospace industry. One of these is blockchain, which may be able to add a new level of trust and reliability to part tracking throughout complex supply chains. As an aerospace manufacturer, it is important to stay informed of these latest developments and create plans for assessing, testing, and implementing solutions that work for your operation.
Manufacturers of aerospace equipment and components compete in highly regulated industries that offer huge rewards for suppliers that can meet the challenges. Traceability for modern aerospace components requires careful planning and investment in quality technology tools. As these capabilities continue to evolve it is up to each supplier to determine their own path to success.