In its bid to be more efficient and cost-competitive while maintaining quality, aircraft supplier Spirit AeroSystems (Chalet P77) is pushing forward with its digital factory initiative. It’s an initiative that Spirit, Boeing’s largest supplier, will be talking up heavily at the Singapore Airshow.
By digitizing its processes down to the raw materials in its warehouse and combining them with lean manufacturing principles and automation, the Wichita-based company thinks it can improve efficiency and quality while controlling costs for current and future manufacturing of aerostructures and complex assemblies.
“What we do is really try to help engineer the production systems of the future with our advanced manufacturing systems approach,” Spirit senior director of research and technology Eric Hein told AIN. “So when we talk about the future factory, for us it’s incorporating our future production system principles into everything we do, and then put the technologies in place that will be required to help execute those in the future.”
Those future factory principles include creating “takt-based” production lines, which is a German-based word and lean manufacturing term that describes a steady rate of production. Ensuring its workers have all of the tools, parts, and kits they need in an organized way to accomplish their tasks contributes to the factory’s continuous rhythm. Those principles also include the use of digital work instructions that lay out exactly what needs to be done and the amount of time a worker has to do it.
The digital piece involves collecting and analyzing data at nearly every step of the manufacturing process and using that data and analyses to optimize those processes, Hein explained.
Under the digital factory concept, the company can know in real-time where a single part, aerostructure or piece of raw material is in the production process. “We call that real-time asset tracking," Hein said. “And that is something that can be powerful in terms of managing your inventory levels…and work-in-process levels, [which] helps the business overall be more efficient.”
It also includes monitoring data from machines to ensure they’re operating at peak efficiency. “The digital piece of it ensures that the factory is connected end to end,” he added.
In addition to manufacturing aerostructures for every in-production Boeing model including the fuselage of the 737, Spirit produces the Airbus A220’s pylon; the wing leading and trailing edge of the A320 as well as its composite spoiler; and the A350’s center fuselage, wing front spar, and fixed leading edge. Besides Wichita, it operates production facilities in McAlester and Tulsa, Oklahoma; Kinston, North Carolina; Prestwick, Scotland; Saint-Nazaire, France; and Subang, Malaysia.