Challenges and solutions in aerospace supply chains

When instructors teach pilots how to fly an aeroplane, they often advise them to "think ahead of the aeroplane."

This means that they have to always plan for the next step. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the same may be said about the aerospace supply chain.

In the most recent few years, the sector has experienced some of the lowest points it has ever seen. A materials shortage as well as the widespread COVID-19 outbreak were to blame for this. To stay ahead of future issues, aerospace manufacturers need to carefully think of their next steps.

In the past couple of years, uncertainty has been the defining word for the aerospace industry. We were hit by a global pandemic, faced with a significant unavailability of components and a lack of skilled labour. These are all factors that contributed to unusual issues for the supply chains.

According to Statista, airlines worldwide lost around $370 billion in revenues from the COVID-19 pandemic. In a similar vein, more than 87,000 jobs were lost in the aerospace industry.  Of which 55,000 were because of supply chain issues, reported the Aerospace Industries Association.

In light of these facts, it is clear that the aerospace supply chain needs to take steps to recover.

Improve visibility in the supply chain

Aerospace supply chains are complex and consist of many different types of suppliers, manufacturers, and maintenance providers. One problem that arises from this complexity is a lack of visibility in the processes of the supply chain.

If one node of the chain has a problem, the next ones will experience a dangerous domino effect. For example, the supply chain may experience a shortage of a component. Because of this, aircrafts might have no choice but to remain on the ground.

With better visibility in their supply chains, manufacturers can react quickly when one node experiences a disruption. As a result, the next nodes won't experience as severe an impact. To do that, manufacturers should invest in automation tools that allow them to track every step of their components.

Manufacturers, OEMs and their suppliers could collaborate to embed smart sensors their components and link them to a shared network. This allows all stakeholders involved in the supply chain can track components from manufacturing to when they reach the aircraft.

Acquiring real-time data from sensors at the beginning of the supply chain will help inform of any disruptions and shortages. The manufacturers will have more time to prepare their future measures as a result of this.

The effects of a labour shortage

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a significant loss of jobs across all sectors, including aerospace. A labour shortage, alongside a lack of skilled workers means slower production times and delays in ordering components.

  1. One strategy for attracting workers is a safety net programme in the form of compensation packages. Or, as an alternative, benefits for employee retainment in case of unforeseen global incidents. This not only encourages previous employees to come back to work for the company, but it also attracts new workers.
  2. Likewise, businesses may establish mentoring programmes for their employees. Offering grants for bright students preparing for a career in engineering or aviation. This will ensure that there is a steady stream of people who are prepared to take over from retired employees.

Net-zero future 

In 2021, aerospace leaders committed to achieving net zero emissions in the industry by 2050. One prominent action is developing the first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035, designed by Airbus. Similar projects targeting biofuel or electric aeroplanes exist, but the aerospace industry needs to address other areas as well.

In a 2021 report called “Decarbonizing aerospace”, Deloitte raises awareness of Scope one and two emissions. These are terms that apply to manufacturing in the aerospace industry that is environmentally responsible. They claim that significant progress may be made in component design and engineering in the near future. This is with the application of cutting-edge technologies like digital twinning, fast prototyping, and additive manufacturing.

Combining smart technologies with green energy is the key to streamlining distribution through supply chains. This will drive positive change in the manufacturing value chain.

To overcome challenges in the aerospace supply chain, manufacturers need to “stay ahead of the airplane”. Putting into action strategies that can anticipate potential problems in the future.

At EU Automation, we help manufacturers in the aerospace industry source their components in real time in a sustainable way. Helping them plan for the future and reduce the time of aircraft on the ground.