It’s a material whirl!

AMJun19Features - web1
AMJun19Features - web1

General manager of Web Industries’ CAD Cut Services business unit, Ben Winters shares some insights about the evolving role of materials formatting in a fast-moving aerospace supply chain.

Across the global aerospace supply chain, there are simultaneous pressures on delivery schedules and costs throughout a programme’s timeline. OEM and Tier 1 suppliers are constantly challenged to adjust to fluctuating market demand, production delays and supply chain constraints.

To remain profitable, these industry leaders are focused on flexibility. This requires supply chain responsiveness achieved through ever-closer partnerships with materials suppliers and formatters. By outsourcing more of their materials management to formatting specialists, OEMs can relieve themselves of considerable overhead and complex inventory management responsibilities. In turn, they can direct their attention to excelling at their core competencies where they add the greatest value to the end product — and ultimately earn the most robust returns on their resource investment.

Amid this quest for competitive agility, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are consolidating their supply bases. They want suppliers who can support their global operations with responsive fulfilment. They also need suppliers with ever more extensive capabilities. For example, a materials formatter must not only process a wide variety of materials but also manage inventory and deliver materials ready to go directly onto a manufacturing machine or into the production process with minimal time and handling.

[caption id="attachment_27925" align="alignright" width="277"] General manager of Web Industries’ CAD Cut Services business unit, Ben Winters[/caption]

Ultimately, to thrive in this competitive environment, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are focusing on their core competencies and counting on responsive supply chain partners to help them adapt with increased flexibility, productivity and profitability

Solutions and strategies

By outsourcing functions such as materials management and the production of composite spools or ply kits to a formatting specialist, aerospace companies can depend on the formatter’s expertise to eliminate non-value added costs and simplify processes. Acting as an extension of the OEM’s operations, a formatter can ease the burden of navigating demand ebbs and flows and production hurdles that inevitably arise during an aircraft program’s long lifecycle. Specifically, a strong materials formatting partnership should help the OEM and its Tier 1 suppliers smooth their inventory flows, free up freezer and storage space, reduce capital expenditures and improve their cash position.

Flexible materials supply

One of the most important elements in a responsive materials supply chain is quick delivery of the right materials in the right format at the right time to the right place. With the aforementioned push toward supply chain consolidation, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are looking for material suppliers and formatters with a global footprint that mirrors their own. Ideally, a materials formatter should be able to support different logistics models.

Advanced information systems

Information technology plays an increasingly important role in the aerospace materials supply chain. A responsive materials formatter will offer: connectivity to customers’ systems through an application programming interface (API) or other direct ERP integration; visibility to capacity planning by site; a configuration-management system for effective control of specifications and drawing revisions, such as changes in ply design or material; quality systems for tracking temperature control, inventory out-time and shelf life for sensitive thermoset prepreg materials; advanced analytics to help customers make more informed decisions.

Line-of-sight into the formatter’s capacity planning should give the OEM confidence that the formatter can scale up or down with demand and never become a bottleneck to growth.

Quality processes and systems

When dealing with composite prepreg materials, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers need to know that every component is prepared precisely to specifications. Accountability is paramount. If a formatter is supplying composite ply kits, their quality systems should offer material traceability to the single ply level. A kit might include spools ready to be mounted directly onto automated layup machinery as well as cut plies pre-packaged efficiently and in an exact specified order, ready to be used on the customer’s factory floor.

As part of a responsive aerospace supply chain, a precision formatter should offer material traceability to the single ply level when preparing ply kits of composite materials

For example, Web Industries’ PlyScan system provides documentation and video footage, if desired, to offer transparency into: material identification; time out of the freezer and remaining out-time; which operators cut and stacked a ply; what machines were utilised; when the ply was processed and packaged; temperature and humidity of the cutting/kitting room.

Beyond these metrics, working with prepreg materials requires regular lab testing and meticulous record keeping to certify that materials are handled in a manner that maintains their integrity and quality for downstream use. In addition, a formatter must plan for transportation, freezer storage, scrap and foreign object damage, among other variables. These myriad details are mission critical, but when an OEM or Tier 1 supplier has to manage them all in-house, it can drain resources from more pressing activities. Collaboration with a formatter also allows them to take advantage of fixed kit pricing, which eases cash expenditures, reduces carrying costs and eliminates many unpredictable material expenses.

Value-added capabilities

A materials formatter enhances the responsive aerospace value chain when it provides customers with access to the industry’s latest equipment and a variety of value-added services. For example, when a formatter leverages moving freezer racks for prepreg composite materials storage, it optimises space and ensures quick access to materials. In addition, leading formatters are expanding their services to encompass capabilities such as: cutting honeycomb core materials; managing consumable materials such as peel plies, release liners, bagging films and breathers; pre-forming plies for small assemblies; using robotic ply handling to improve quality and productivity.

In today’s competitive global aerospace manufacturing industry, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are racing to tighten delivery cycle time while reducing costs and eliminating waste. Against this backdrop, they require a responsive materials supply chain.

Often this includes a materials formatting partner that is: geographically close to OEM and Tier 1 manufacturing operations; adept at value-added services, such as analytics, kitting, consumables and ply pre-forming; digitally connected through ERP integration for responsive demand and capacity planning; able to profitably scale with the customer in response to fluctuating market demands.

With this winning combination in a materials formatting partner, aerospace OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are free to focus on their core competencies and can continue to deliver high-quality, innovative aircraft today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future.

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