Reducing risk in the aerospace supply chain
Jean-Louis Evans, Managing Director at TÜV SÜD Product Service, explains how those supplying airline manufacturers should approach qualification and compliance testing.
The commercial interest in next gen aircraft, such as the Airbus A350XWB, Boeing 777x and Irkut MC-21, and the demand for enhancements for onboard facilities and passenger experiences, have never been so great. This puts unprecedented pressure on the aerospace manufacturing supply chain to deliver competitively priced products and components, while still maintaining quality.
While it is simple to source aerospace components and finished products from anywhere in the world, manufacturers that buy directly from outside the traditional supply chain are increasing risk in terms of product quality and customer satisfaction. Also, customer demand for quality, coupled with strict delivery lead times, means that delays in the required test certifications can cause substantial cost in both time-to-market and financial expenditure.
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) supplying airline manufacturers therefore need effective support, not only with qualification testing programmes, but with pre-compliance testing, across the design and development lifecycle. This will reduce the risk of delays during final product qualification testing, as part of the certification process, and minimise a negative ripple effect across the supply chain.
To reduce complexity and expedite the process, a qualification testing programme must therefore include:
- A single point of contact for all qualification and testing activities.
- A common standard report format.
- Project delivery and quality as the consistent focus across all activities.
Qualification testing programmes are at the end of the line in terms of reducing risk, but periodical pre-compliance testing at stages during development can provide an early warning system for problems that may cause supply chain risks later in the process.
Information obtained from investigation of structural/mechanical properties, either by test or finite analysis methods, can be incorporated early into the design of structures, ensuring a smooth and swift acceptance of the final qualification testing requirements. The same applies for the power quality and environmental aspects.
Where equipment may be used for multiple applications, a tailored, single test programme can be designed at the early stage of product development, which will successfully cover different requirements and minimise testing lead times. This may be an overall test programme covering a range of Airbus and Boeing requirements, but may also include specific requirements for other airframes.
Supply chain issues
Those businesses importing products and components into the EU are required to hold evidence from their supply chain of test reports and certificates in the form of a technical file that proves compliance. However, manufacturers must also take steps to test what they buy to ensure compliance, rather than rely on their supply chain to take on the burden of proof.
One important step is to check that the relevant reports and certificates match the correct product. It is also vital to double check that these are less than two years old as, over a period of time, reports tend not to relate to the product in its current form due to material and manufacturing changes.
Another issue in the supply chain is that very often the final products supplied are not the same as those ordered. For example, a product exhibited at a trade show may subsequently require a reduction in production costs to win a big order and this leads to an adaption of the final product and its components, and a degradation in the quality of the final product compared to the original sample.
To overcome these issues, testing should be done before the product is shipped. Factory inspections can also be carried out to check the authenticity of factories, as sometimes mass production is done in one facility and samples are produced in another before submission for testing and certification.
It is also important to ensure that any factory dealt with outside the EU has a Quality Management System in place and is regularly audited by an independent third party. Also, pre-shipment and post-shipment inspections should be considered. Before the products are sold in the EU, samples should be sent for a ‘spot-check’ so that they can be verified as being compliant.
Supply chain improvements
Suppliers to the aerospace market are faced with tough economic challenges, meaning that testing and certification is often viewed as a cost burden. OEM suppliers must therefore streamline the process by working closely with the test laboratory that certifies their products to define and deliver an efficient testing programme. Such technical support during the product certification process will help OEMs to get through the complex testing process by anticipating and mitigating design and related certification approvals problems early on.
Often a test organisation is only involved once the finished product is ready, and there is pressure for the product to be tested and approved. By performing pre-compliance testing, there is added reassurance that there will be no unwanted surprises when it comes to test and approval.
SC21 is part of the UK aerospace, defence, security and space industries’ programme to achieve supply chain excellence. This change programme is designed to accelerate the competitiveness of the aerospace and defence industry by raising the performance of its supply chains.
Ultimately, it will help industry deliver competitive solutions through a more effective supply chain. SC21 is endorsed by the UK’s Ministry of Defence and is increasingly imposed as a requirement for suppliers of large prime companies.
SC21 encourages the use of RMM (Relationship Management Matrix), which is a bi-directional relationship between organisations that need to work better with each other. For product manufacturers and test organisations, RMM is an excellent tool which has a proven track record of creating highly effective collaborative relationships, but it does require commitment and long term thinking.
Using RMM, the relationship is measured in order to identify where there is effective cooperation, but also identify where there is room for improvement. This not only benefits both parties, but also the wider supply chain. As a consequence of engaging in RMM with a test organisation, a strong relationship of trust and dependence develops, and this can be used to continually improve efficiency and allow for more effective forward planning.
Ensuring compliance across the supply chain may at first appear a daunting and complex task, as suppliers to the aerospace market are faced with tough economic challenges and costs associated with testing and certification. However, by engaging with a testing organisation early on in the development of a product, to minimise time-to-market delays, and using SC21 tools to continually improve supply chain excellence, manufacturers can effectively mitigate risk and be assured that their supply chain complies with relevant regulations.