Lean Aerospace Production Planning in the Age of Physical Distancing

Like much of the world, we’ve been adjusting to social distancing measures over recent weeks—in stores, on public transportation and even at work. In aerospace manufacturing specifically, adjusting established production planning processes for aircraft has long been a complex, time-consuming task. The Project ADAM (Advanced Digital Design and Manufacturing) team at Acubed has been working on a solution to make these planning exercises significantly faster and provide valuable flexibility as our company’s production system continues to change over the coming months and years.

For example, in the context of manufacturing, production line planning involves scheduling and allocating operational activities according to the company’s delivery schedule. Early-stage line planning can be a fairly manual process. At its most basic, it can start with a series of sticky notes on a board that are annotated and moved around to find the right process. This information is then transferred by hand to a computer to generate workflow diagrams and charts. The process can take a number of weeks and moves through numerous iterations, making it difficult to quickly experiment with different line planning scenarios, which is particularly important at a time like this.

Build A Lean Manufacturing Production Process

At Project ADAM, we’re developing lean manufacturing production solutions that will accelerate Airbus’ transition towards faster, more efficient manufacturing and design. In collaboration with our partners at a leading research university, we’ve developed a solution that can help Airbus rapidly develop its line planning from even the earliest stages. This solution was initially focused on insourcing parts traditionally made by suppliers, but it can also be applied to existing processes to identify areas for improvement.

By digitizing the process from the very start, an exercise that typically takes weeks can now be done in just a couple of days. Multiple users can experiment with different production scenarios to optimize workflows, scheduling and resource utilization for maximum efficiency.

Flexible production line planning to navigate uncertainty

Our solution has already been tested in several pilot initiatives across our company’s facilities, including pylon manufacturing in Saint Eloi, the US A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama and A350-900 wing upper cover production in Stade. Feedback so far has been very positive, with users saying the tool is easy to use and a huge time-saver, particularly when studying various production performance scenarios.

As it relates to today’s crisis, we believe these attributes can help production planners quickly find the right solutions when incorporating physical distancing measures. As they experiment with different parameters, from shift patterns to workstation capacity, our software solution recomputes schedules in a matter of seconds, providing rapid feedback on the effects of each change. There’s no precedent for working in our new normal. However, what we do know is that a lean manufacturing process that incorporates fast, flexible planning can help us navigate the uncertainty.

We would love to hear how you’re handling these types of changes and would be happy to offer advice and guidance from our learnings.

- Trevor Johnson