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A&D Manufacturing: Are You Taking Advantage of Reusable Parts?

  • 16 August 2017
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Categories: Aerospace & Defense

Close up of wing ribs on an aircraft.

If you work in Aerospace and Defense (A&D), you’re in the midst of navigating a marketplace that’s competitive like never before. In order to meet market demands and keep up with overseas competition, A&D manufacturers are fighting to develop flexible workflows while keeping costs down.

What if the flexibility you’re looking for comes not just by improving your product lifecycle, but by redefining what happens at the end of that lifecycle?

We’re talking about reusing parts at the end of a project, instead of tossing them and starting fresh for each new project. A&D manufacturers can remain competitive by taking advantage of reusable parts during production, through what’s known as reverse supply chain management and closed-loop recycling.

If you’re struggling to get on board with the idea of recycling your own parts, read on to learn about the massive benefits — and how some companies have already put reusability into action.

Advantages of Reusability

Improved Efficiency

Reusability forces manufacturers to check product lines thoroughly, looking for the best way to recycle designs and parts. The result of this thorough approach? A more efficient production lifecycle all-around.

Boeing began experimenting with this over a decade ago, when it launched its 737/757 program to streamline production across all planes. The company divided parts into two streams. The first stream included “basic” parts that are common across all plane models. The second contained “optional” parts, which may be reusable in some cases, but will change from model to model.

Boeing continued to use standard design and production processes on optional parts, while using more streamlined processes to reuse many of their basic parts. Basic parts don’t need much maintenance, as their design and purpose will remain relatively unchanged over time. With an estimated 60% (or more) of an airplane’s design dependent on basic parts, this process of reusability allows Boeing to be more efficient in production, devoting extra time only to parts that are unique or brand new designs.

Saved Time

Not only does reusability streamline production across various models, but it also saves engineers significant time, by reducing the need to create brand new designs for similar parts. This allows your engineers to focus more time on creating new parts, or working to make existing unique parts reusable for the future.

Saving time also comes in the form of better turnarounds. With a foundation of basic parts to pull from, you’ll only need to change a select few designs and parts for each new project. Your team can complete projects at faster rates, and reap the benefits of quick turnaround times.

Stronger Customer Relationships

Providing faster turnaround times isn’t just great for your production team; it’s also great for your customers, and can increase their loyalty to your services. Being able to provide them with finished products sooner has a direct impact on customer satisfaction, and in a competitive world, this matters more than ever for A&D companies.

Remember, your customers don’t really want the hassle of moving to another manufacturer. You already have an in-depth knowledge of their needs and an existing business relationship. Customers will be pushed to seek other manufacturers when they can’t get all of their needs met by their current supplier. Don’t give them a reason to shop around. Improving turnaround time is one more way to show your consumers that they can trust you to deliver the best service possible. This is particularly important when competing against overseas companies that may have advantages with lower costs.

Reduced Environmental Impact

Traditionally, A&D parts are disposed of or recycled at the end of their lifecycle. Trashing your parts after each project creates unnecessary waste; even when they’re recycled, conventional recycling methods degrade the quality of the material, rendering them unusable. Employing reusable parts not only reduces the accumulation of waste your company produces, it also lowers the amount of new materials your business is required to buy each year (providing a boost to your budget, as well).

Financial Benefits

Companies that turn to reusability see the benefits in their bottom lines. Reduced waste means lower waste costs. Reused materials lower the need to buy new materials, helping to extend the bill of materials (BOM) of manufactured products. Finally, the engineering focus on standardizing specialized parts will spread these benefits across new products in the future.

Turning to the Right Tools

Ready to get started with reusability? Start by investing in the right tools to enable your team to stay organized and efficient in managing both your reusable parts and your unique parts. A successful reusability process requires organization across multiple departments, clear communication, and sophisticated control of inventory. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems like Epicor give manufacturers advanced control over their in-house content. TIMCO Aerosystems, for example, relies on the Epicor ERP system to manage client part designs.

Airplane parts, from seats to overhead bins, can vary with each model. For TIMCO Aerosystems, these variations don’t mean starting from scratch. Instead, engineers search through their organized design database provided by Epicor PLM to find reusable parts. What used to take up to 20 hours to create now takes only minutes, as engineers simply need to identify the right part and its associated certifications.

Furthermore, Epicor supports integration with TIMCO Aerosystems’ manufacturing execution system (MES). When a BOM is sent from the company’s Epicor PLM to the engineering workbench, new designs and reference notes can be seen directly on the production floor via the MES. This direct communication channel eliminates the need for using outside sources, such as email files, to share designs and notes between team members.

Reusability and the Future of A&D

If it’s not enough to know that reusability will save you time and money, keep in mind that reintroducing parts into your product lifecycle also eliminates the need to write off unused part inventories. There’s the added potential to become an industry leader in sustainability, which is all the more important at a time when governing bodies are tightening environmental regulations. Embracing reusability benefits your company, your customers, and your stakeholders — at a time when A&D manufacturers need strategies for retaining customers and impressing stakeholders, reusability is a keystone addition to your production process. If you’re not taking advantage of reusable parts already, get the systems in place to do so, before your competitors have the chance to overtake your production model.

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