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When programme execution reaches this stage, it is essential to enable an unbroken transition from planning to shop-floor production

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Aerospace Manufacturing Product realisation: A collaborative approach in aerospace & defence

Jun 21, 2018

Aerospace and defence companies are met by the double challenges of unmatched competitive pressure and clearly demanding customers who are looking for greater accountability on programme performance. The feature discusses how product realisation enables a collaborative approach in driving profitability, reputation and more successful execution of aerospace & defence programmes.

The aerospace and defence industry continues to be an increasingly competitive market. To strive successfully, aerospace companies need to reconsider their programme execution strategies. There is a need for them to make manufacturing a fundamental part of the programme development process in order to achieve greater transparency on programme decisions and their impact on cost, timing and quality.

The changing global aerospace & defence industry

Programme complexities: Increasing programme complexity is one of the reasons why most aerospace companies suffer financial losses while executing major programmes. These issues arise because aerospace systems are becoming more sophisticated and challenging. Large programmes are managed on a global scale, with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers are finding it difficult to efficiently manage systems integration. Poor programme management and lack of understanding of requirements are some of the key contributing factors that lead to programme letdowns. Also, aerospace customers are demanding greater innovation and fuel efficiency in products. With increasing regulation in greenhouse gas emissions, the need for lighter materials and advanced propulsion techniques will continue to grow in the near future. All these issues drive product and programme complexities, making new approaches to programme execution strategies necessary to win in the current aerospace industry environment.

Declining defence and space spending: Global defence and space spending are declining, driven by Europe and the US. In contrast, defence spending is increasing somewhat in countries such as China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, in an effort to modernise defence capabilities. Nevertheless, the defence sector revenue is declining, a trend that will continue in the near future. Expensive defence programmes that require decades of development investment and have repeated scheduling delays, are at a risk of losing funding. Nowadays, aerospace defence contractors are required to demonstrate cost and risk mitigation abilities to win business. The advantage will also go to those who are opportunistic in recognising changing defence priorities, all of which require a fundamental change in terms of manufacturing strategies to operate profitably at lower production rates. All elements of programme cost, such as direct labour and overhead, should be accurately predicted in order to demonstrate programme affordability to government customers.

Increasing global competition: The global commercial aerospace sector is the main growth sector and is driven by increased production demand at the platform level as well as for retrofit components. Increasing passenger travel demand and the replacement cycle of older generation aircraft will contribute to the biggest growth in the aerospace industry. However, competition is intense with the entry of new, lower cost and more responsive providers, including the migration of companies from defence to commercial markets. To deliver successful programmes, aerospace companies need to maximise resource utilisation, aggressively pursue programme bids and make sound investment decisions in design and manufacturing capabilities.

Strategies for profitable growth

Cost containment: Cost containment refers to the pressure on established providers to become dramatically more efficient at reducing costs while increasing production flexibility. These cost and flexibility needs include not only capabilities for managing more build variations in production but also the need to adopt alternative materials and manufacturing processes in order to bring down costs. Traditional cost management approaches, today, are just not enough. And, in an era of growing demand for more innovation in the industry, just slashing the operational cost is not the recipe for success. Good investment decisions should capture efficiencies from existing resources, which requires aerospace companies to perform a strategic evaluation of their cost structure. The idea is to reduce cost drivers by proper programme planning. Poor programme management is one of the most significant contributors to inefficiencies, and such cost drivers are completely avoidable.

Aggressive programme pursuit: To win business in today’s environment, contractors need to submit more attractive bids. Aerospace customers need to know that the programme can be executed within budget, timing and performance requirements. This forces the industry to reinvent the way programme proposals are pursued and bids are submitted. Winning bids are typically the ones that can prove that manufacturing capabilities exist to build the product as per specifications. Conversely, aerospace companies must evaluate the programme viability during the bid process and pursue only those that are profitable.

In addition, the established reputation of programme performance is and will continue to be an essential requirement for a company to win new contracts. A strategic approach to pursuing programmes with early analysis of manufacturing viability is critical for making the right investment decisions and winning more profitable contracts.

Risk sharing with suppliers: In the aerospace industry, transfer of subsystem and component development to suppliers is growing. Considering the rising number of smaller contracts, this is a critical risk mitigation strategy adopted by most aerospace OEMs. Reliance on supplied parts helps to minimise capital investments and better manage R&D costs. On the other hand, complexities in aerospace systems present unique supplier integration challenges during product development. Successful supplier collaboration requires product data and manufacturing information, such as 3D design data and any tooling information to be seamlessly shared. The need to accurately trace part numbers and bill-of-materials (BOMs) for compliance brings additional challenges. Therefore, using integrated processes to enable codevelopment of components between OEMs and suppliers can significantly improve programme profitability for all parties.

Key enablers for driving programme execution excellence

In order to contain cost, pursue bids more successfully, and drive programme execution excellence, aerospace and defence companies must embrace a more efficient way to enable collaboration between design and manufacturing. Enabling early involvement of manufacturing engineering in the assessment of design alternatives and effective communication with the shop floor are all examples of opportunities for companies to shift left the integration of the manufacturing definition in the product development process.

With the shift left strategy, the programme team can make manufacturing decisions concurrently with the evolving aircraft design. Design and manufacturing gain early access to pre-release data, so critical decisions are made in a collaborative manner. It is more cost effective when design and manufacturing engineers are given the opportunity to optimise programme performance before investment decisions are locked in. Figure 1 shows that early in the lifecycle we have more flexibility to change designs with less cost impact.

The opportunity to enhance the product design not only for performance but also for manufacturing requirements can help the programme team to control its unit costs and production rates better. This applies to both, the aerospace company and its suppliers. This shift-left strategy helps to reduce the number of programme changes and ensures a smooth transition from development to production.

Programme teams that consider manufacturing early on are more likely to take advantage of new materials and technologies. However, aerospace companies still struggle to find a solution that is capable of providing a single collaborative platform for conducting design and manufacturing planning. Typically, design and manufacturing applications are separate tools representing data in different constructs and, therefore, real-time collaboration is never achieved. Aerospace companies try to connect the disparate systems with ad hoc integration modules but that has been an inefficient approach. Therefore, the question is how next-generation PLM solutions for aerospace and defence can help programme teams collaborate more effectively during the product realisation process.

Product realisation solution supports programme execution excellence

For more successful programme execution, the aerospace and defence industry needs a process-driven PLM approach to bring manufacturing engineering into every aspect of programme development. This approach must start early in concept evaluation and continue all the way through production and delivery. When manufacturing is involved at every stage of the programme and participates in decision making, the likelihood of programme execution success increases exponentially. Consequently, integrating design and manufacturing during product realisation is pivotal for aerospace companies to execute programmes on a global basis. Figure 2 describes a common approach to product realisation in the aerospace industry.

Programme pursuit and planning

Pursuing programme contracts efficiently is the most crucial activity for aerospace companies. Rapid evaluation of different concept designs, validation of requirements and estimating programme profitability is critical for submitting winning bids. For example, if a firm’s manufacturing requirements, such as quality, cost and materials are evaluated for each concept design, then it can significantly improve bid quality. It gives customers the confidence that programme objectives can be met on time and within budget. A solution must support this critical stage of programme execution by providing the following capabilities:

  • Evaluate alternative manufacturing processes, tooling concepts and quality schemes using a common environment for all manufacturing information.

  • Perform simulation of different production alternatives and validate if the customer delivery schedule can be obtained while considering capital investments.

  • Perform early factory layout planning, throughput analysis, tooling requirements and automation planning for concept viability.

The objective of this stage is to provide programme management with answers on how manufacturing can support budget and schedule during the bidding process. Using a single environment for design and manufacturing process management, aerospace companies can evaluate design concepts and select the best alternative that meets programme design requirements, thereby increasing the likelihood of winning the bid.

Engineering manufacturing development

Once the programme is awarded and the decision is made to move forward with a particular design concept, it is time to begin detailed design of systems and subsystems. During the design-to-build phase, design and manufacturing engineers collaborate on pre-released data and perform design-for-manufacturability tradeoff studies to identify potential design and tooling issues. At this stage of preliminary design review (PDR), close cooperation between design and manufacturing ensures that the released design data is ready for manufacturing planning.

The following plan-to-build phase is when detailed manufacturing planning of fabrication and the assembly process is performed in more detail. A single integrated product realisation environment provides a transition from design release to detailed manufacturing planning with solutions capabilities that enable you to:

  • Provide a common environment to manage engineering and manufacturing bill-of-materials.

  • Identify long-lead materials and components.

  • Configure 3D work instructions automatically based on the exact process steps.

Production and deployment

When programme execution reaches this stage, it is essential to enable an unbroken transition from planning to shop-floor production. If data integrity is not maintained, design intent can be missing from production and quality parameters. Thus, an integrated environment is necessary at this stage of transition from planning to fabrication and assembly. This ensures that as-designed, as-planned and as built BOMs are consistent and reconciled. Managing planning and production in a single environment ensures traceability for the purpose of regulatory requirements. Solution capabilities needed in this stage include:

  • Delivery of seamless 3D work instructions from PLM to manufacturing execution systems (MES) with capabilities to capture markups from the shop floor to planning.

  • Delivery of measured quality data from the shop floor in the same PLM platform.

  • Shop floor access to current and released computer numerical control (CNC) programmes, drawings and 3D models with browser-enabled applications.


Aerospace and defence companies are facing significant competitive pressure due to the declining number of new programmes. Furthermore, aerospace customers are seeking greater accountability on programme performance. To compete and maintain profitability, aerospace companies need to rethink their PLM strategies. To gain greater clarity on programme decisions and their impact on cost, timing and quality, they must make manufacturing an essential part of the programme development process.

Siemens PLM Software’s product realisation solution for the aerospace and defence industry provides a process-driven approach to shift product and manufacturing decisions to an early stage in the lifecycle to validate the manufacturing feasibility of aircraft systems during the design stage.

Image Gallery

  • Figure 1: Shift left programme decisions are a critical initiative for aerospace companies

    Image: Siemens PLM Software

  • Figure 2: Product realisation process for aerospace and defence

    Image: Siemens PLM Software

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