Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Ronaldsway Aircraft Company managing director Nigel Brown looks at the supply chain issues in being able to respond to demand for ‘older’ spares and repairs.
The ‘spares and repairs’ supply chain will become significant revenue generator for the aerospace industry in the next few years. The continuing growth in air travel and the extension of aircraft life will inevitably lead to more aircraft flying for longer. Consequently the industry will need suppliers that can manufacture complex components in very small volumes. But will this create issues for the supply chain?
The larger component suppliers have focused on delivering the most cost effective solutions for the production volumes of a given component. This has been instrumental in driving new manufacturing technology and quite often a high degree of automation. Supplying spares when the component is still in manufacture is not the issue; the real problem comes when you have to make a part that hasn't been made for ten years.
The skills and capabilities required to be able to deal with the issues of making small l quantities of effectively obsolete parts are very different from stable high volume manufacture. I believe the challenge for many tier one suppliers is how can you combine these two different skill sets in the same organisation. The first thing we do with our new apprentices is teaching them how to read drawings with imperial dimensions. Then we teach how to manufacture components from old and potentially less consistent castings, while still complying with the latest quality standards.
Once these knowledge issues have been addressed there is the very simple operational problem of ensuring that dealing with these small quantities doesn't disrupt the volume production. The way we are managing this at Ronaldsway Aircraft Company is by setting up a dedicated cell just to manufacture this type of product with its own engineering resource to separate it from our normal production.
Another key consideration is material supply. Obviously trying to buy castings or forgings that haven't been in production for a few years is very difficult but even basic material specifications may have changed. An example we come across regularly is we cannot buy the material specified on the drawing as it is no longer available. Therefore we have to buy material in a different condition and put it through some form of heat treatment to convert it to the right condition, after which we have to have the material tested to prove it conforms to the required specification. So there are a number of issues for the supply chain in being able to respond to demand for 'older' spares and repairs.
Having said that there are some significant changes in approach that I believe the OEMs will have to embrace. By far the most important one is that this is not a ‘commodity buy’ it is a ‘service level buy’. What I mean by this is very simple: Using a ‘should cost’ price based on the production cost of the part when it was last made doesn't work. The cost of the infrastructure to be able to deal with the issues mentioned is very different from a volume production model.
So the real question is not whether the supply chain can develop a solution to ‘spares and repairs’, but will the OEMs recognise that there is a higher manufacturing cost?