Logo: Launch into Aerospace

Manufacturing: Getting It Together

Aerospace manufacturing demands an exceptionally broad assortment of skills and facilities. No single company builds an entire flight system. Manufacturers of flight equipment generally specialize in a major area like airframes and structures, spacecraft, propulsion units, airborne systems, and ground support systems.

Within each of these broad areas are scores of sub-specialties. Production of a major flight vehicle �a commercial jetliner, for example � could involve several thousand subcontractors and suppliers organized in �tiers� with increased pressure on first tier suppliers to bring design, investment, and certification qualifications to the table.

The production group is led by a prime contractor, sometimes known as a systems integrator, whose facility is the site for final assembly, rollout, and delivery of the vehicle. Lower-tier manufacturers deliver subassemblies to the plants of high-tier producers where the assemblies are integrated with other assemblies to become subsystems and then systems. Fully tested systems then flow to the prime contractor�s assembly line where they are integrated into the flight vehicle under a carefully developed manufacturing plan.

Major aerospace production programs, whether government-sponsored or commercial, could involve several top-tier principal subcontractors, including some from foreign nations. Work-sharing offers many advantages:
  • It broadens the pool of skills and facilities and helps compress production time.
  • Competition among subcontractors provides the best in performance, quality, at the lowest cost.
  • When the partner is a foreign company, it offers market access for the end product that might not otherwise be available.
Fast-paced exchange of information between the supply base and the prime contractor, high-speed delivery, and rigorous processes to squeeze out unnecessary costs and wasteful processes characterize today�s manufacturing process. Known as lean manufacturing, moving assembly lines, and accompanying lean techniques have aided this effort tremendously over the past several years.

As an example, the time it takes a Boeing Next-Generation 737 to move through final assembly has reduced from 22 days down to 10.