Following Airbus' announcement that it is increasing A320 production to 75 aircraft per month by 2025, many manufacturers in the sector are questioning whether they and their supply chains are ramp-up ready. At a time when many aerospace manufacturers have been struggling to restore their productivity in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ramp-up challenge is adding pressure to an already demanding situation.

With passenger demand for flights back to near pre-pandemic levels, demand for narrow body aircraft has soared, with Airbus forecasting that over 31,000 single aisle aircraft will be required between 2022 and 2041 to meet the needs of aircraft operators.

A recent report by Vendigital, seeks to help the industry to meet this challenge within the short timeframe set out by Airbus, by guiding manufacturers to improve their operational efficiency and optimise their supply chains simultaneously in order to make the most of the ramp-up opportunity.

Taking a holistic view

The report reveals that manufacturers need to focus on improving efficiency internally and externally to achieve a holistic and accurate picture of rate readiness. By conducting thorough audits of both themselves and their external supply chain, manufacturers will be able to identify any risk factors, for example, whether they have the financial capacity to ramp up production activity.

To assist with this initial process, OEMs and manufacturers are advised to first create an internal checklist that is designed to improve operational efficiency and includes activities such as capacity assessments, mapping any resource challenges, and scrutinising investments and associated timelines to ensure these can be kept. This internal checklist should also include key points such as understanding whether all raw material agreements are firmly in place, as well as ensuring that all machinery and equipment required is assessed and working to its optimal capacity.

Furthermore, consideration should be given to governance structures, KPIs and scheduling systems, to ensure they are all pointing in the same direction and helping to keep the ramp up on track. It is also important to include assessments on support functions in this internal checklist to allow teams to successfully cope with the higher demand. Open communication with employees from all teams about what is to be expected is key, facilitating cross-department collaboration.

By ensuring that all internal equipment and processes are optimised at the start of the ramp-up programme, manufacturers can mitigate risk. However, they must also consider their external supply chain and take steps to ensure that suppliers at every level are adequately prepared to increase output.

A seven-step process

External supplier checks will be imperative to ensuring a successful ramp up, as the report has revealed that 38% of suppliers had inadequate processes for capacity planning, and almost one in ten had experienced significant operational issues which compromised their ability to ramp up production. To guide manufacturers as they begin to plan external supplier assessments, the report identifies seven key steps that should be taken when managing their supply chain and seeking to improve efficiency.

This seven-step approach begins by understanding the ramp up in terms of the demand curve and timescale expectations. This understanding then allows manufacturers to conduct an in-depth assessment of their supply chain's state of readiness and rank areas of risk in order of priority. Once these activities have been completed, the approach then stresses the importance of conducting in-person as well as virtual assessments to build trusted relationships with suppliers and move towards a more collaborative way of working.

The next step is to create a detailed action plan that accounts for all identified risks, utilising data to create a live digital tool that will provide end-to-end visibility as the ramp up progresses. In areas such as this, it is important to gain 'buy-in' from suppliers, and to deliver all messages of improvement in a way that is supportive, as opposed to instructing from the top down. The approach additionally explains that raising understanding and providing support across the supply chain will be crucial to ensuring a successful programme, particularly as skills and staffing shortages are still having a large impact on the sector.

Whilst it is important to conduct detailed internal and external reviews at the outset, these assessments should also be repeated at intervals during the ramp up, increasing data maturity for both manufacturers and suppliers as the programme continues. This will additionally ensure that all learnings are captured and all new ways of working are recorded, leading to continuous improvement as the review cycle is implemented. The creation of this new 'business as usual' approach is the final step towards building a ramp-up ready supply chain, increasing resilience and efficiencies.

The pace of the ramp-up challenge currently underway in the aerospace industry is unprecedented and while manufacturers have much to do to ensure both they and their supply chains are capable of meeting production targets, there could be opportunities to increase market share for those that get it right. By ensuring that both internal and external processes are optimised from the start of any rate increase, manufacturers and OEMs are certain to put themselves in the best position to meet the current targets for 2025 and beyond.

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