Managing the Impact of Manufacturing Product Launch Delays in A&D

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Supply chains are one of the great modern marvels that excel at producing products at a reduced cost and with a high degree of efficiency. However, what these supply chains have produced in terms of efficiency has come at the cost of increased fragility. When something goes awry–a shipment arrives late, a part was produced incorrectly, the wrong material was used–the fragility of the whole system is laid bare and delays in launching new products can occur. The complexities of global supply chains, regulatory hurdles, and ever-evolving technological advancements, create a perfect storm for potential delays. Even the slightest hiccup in the manufacturing process can reverberate throughout the entire web of primes and suppliers. Proactive mitigation strategies like advanced project management techniques, fostering collaboration, and adopting flexible manufacturing systems, are key to mitigating negative outcomes. Failure to do so could mean disaster, eroding competitiveness and casting doubt on a company’s ability to deliver on its promises to customers.

Understanding the Root Causes of Product Launch Delays

Because the supply chain (or perhaps a more appropriate term would be the supply web) is so interconnected, the events in one node of the chain end up having real downstream effects for the rest of the industry.

Supply Chain Disruptions

Events such as natural disasters, political instability, labor disputes, or transportation issues can lead to shortages of critical components and materials. Most recently, the COVID-19 responses led international trade to stop almost overnight–an event that some companies are still recovering from. These supply chain disruptions can cascade, causing production bottlenecks and delaying product launches.

Design and Engineering Complexities

The advanced nature of A&D products often involves high-precision engineering. From cutting-edge avionics systems to composite materials and propulsion mechanisms, the complexity of these products can reveal unforeseen issues during development and manufacturing. Design flaws, material incompatibilities, or integration challenges may require extensive rework, testing, and validation, leading to delays in product launch timelines.

Regulatory and Compliance Hurdles

The A&D industry is subject to stringent regulations and compliance requirements governing product development and manufacturing. These include airworthiness certifications, export controls, environmental standards, and safety regulations. Ensuring compliance with these evolving regulations can be challenging and time-consuming but is absolutely necessary in order to launch a new product or aircraft. Failure to adhere to regulatory requirements can result in penalties, product recalls, or production halts, potentially delaying product launches.

Preventing Launch Delays with Advanced Project Management

Advanced project management helps A&D companies avoid product launch delays by mitigating risk and communicating effectively. Proactively discovering the threats to the success of a project is an obvious first step to mitigating delays. A&D manufacturers should do a thorough risk assessment of different eventualities and then plan for these disruptions, starting wherever the lines of “most damaging” and “most probable” bisect. This sort of proactive planning buys A&D companies time to respond if and when the risks ever materialize. 

Beyond planning, effective communication is one of the most important practices that any company can have. Making a conscious effort to tell the truth to any and all relevant parties is difficult, but it is always the right decision. If a product launch delay seems inevitable, the best thing a manufacturer can do is to announce what’s happening and what they’re doing to fix it and minimize downstream effects. The bad news will never be welcome, but effective communication shows the company’s willingness to take responsibility for the problem and solve it.

Strengthening Supplier Collaboration and Visibility

Historically, one of the biggest problems of the A&D supply chain, and really any supply chain, is the poor visibility beyond one or two links in either direction. This opacity creates an inherent inability to plan for shortages whenever they come. A&D primes can help strengthen the overall supply chain with collaboration and visibility. By collaborating with companies farther up the chain, manufacturers can mitigate quality and design issues that may cause product launch issues later on. Collaboration allows both suppliers and manufacturers to implement JIT practices, plan for shortages, manage inventory levels, and otherwise communicate and mitigate any issues that may materialize in the future.

Leveraging Flexible Manufacturing Systems

Leveraging flexible manufacturing systems is one of the most important trends across manufacturing today and transcends the A&D industry. Adopting flexible manufacturing systems allows A&D manufacturers to quickly adapt to changing demand, product variations, and unforeseen challenges that could lead to delays. Adopting Modular production lines and reconfigurable systems enables manufacturers to rapidly shift between different product models or introduce design changes, minimizing disruptions and ensuring continuity.

Flexible manufacturing also falls into the category of lean manufacturing manufacturing. By eliminating waste, optimizing workflows, and empowering employees to identify and address inefficiencies, manufacturers can respond swiftly to evolving circumstances. Lean practices foster a culture of agility and enable rapid adjustments to production processes, reducing the risk of delays caused by rigid or outdated systems.

The Costly Impact of Unmitigated Delays

The consequences of product launch delays in the A&D industry can be severe and far-reaching, underscoring the importance of proactive mitigation strategies. Real-world examples highlight the egregious expenses and reputational damage that can result from inadequate planning and risk management.

One of the most recent examples of the A&D project delays (or even failures) is the Boeing 737 MAX. While the initial fleet of these aircraft was released, the problems with the MCAS ended up derailing the entire project, creating delays that rippled across the aviation industry. Boeing lost billions of dollars on the project directly, but an argument can be made that the reputational damage of the fiasco exceeds the initial losses. Many airlines, after years of delays and FAA groundings, (to mention nothing of the recent issues with emergency exit doors becoming dislodged mid-flight), have opted to purchase Airbus A320NEOs–a direct competitor to the Boeing 737 MAX. While the main issue with the MCAS was poor design by Boeing, this example still highlights the dramatic consequences of product launch delays. Had Boeing been more proactive with project management and clear communication, it’s likely that these issues could have been avoided or at least mitigated.

Final Thoughts

The best way to manage the impact of product launch delays is by being proactive and solving problems when they first arise. In fact, one of the best ways to be proactive is by selecting the right suppliers that have a track record of delivering quality products on time. SAT Plating offers extensive services, from research and development to mass production and efficient product delivery, specifically tailored to aerospace and defense partners. Get in touch with SAT Plating today to begin discussing your project specifications. Our capabilities extend to accommodating programs that require as few as 1,000 parts or exceed 1+ million parts annually. We welcome new A&D partners who prioritize efficient component production and minimizing product launch delays.

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