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.
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.