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  • Jeb Lyne

A few thoughts on tackling A&D Production Challenges (Part 3 - Facilities and Infrastructure)

Building on our discussions surrounding labor shortages and material constraints in the A&D industry, let's shift focus to another critical hurdle: inadequate facilities and infrastructure. In an environment of soaring demand and rapid technological advancements, securing sufficient space, equipment, and specialized areas is crucial for on-time and cost-effective parts delivery.

Identify your bottlenecks

Four common infrastructure limitations threaten to impede your progress:

  1. Floor Space Constraints: From assembling complex aircraft to managing work-in-progress inventory, ample floor space for your workforce and machinery is essential. Cramped quarters can lead to inefficiencies, congestion, and safety hazards. Solution: Rather than deciding you’re simply space constrained, analyze your layout, optimize for flow, get rid of those machines deemed retired-in-place, and decide whether all that work really needs to be done at your site or if it should be outsourced. Even if you decide that all processes currently done in your space should keep being done in your space, I routinely see 20-40% increase in available floor space by taking these steps.

  2. Warehousing Woes: Efficient storage of raw materials, finished goods, and non-conforming parts necessitates dedicated space. Inadequate warehousing disrupts material flow, hinders production planning, and inflates storage costs. Solution: Before you go and lease another couple tens of thousand feet of warehousing, a take care of the basics such as implementing lean warehousing principles, revisiting your supplier agreements to potentially get smaller but more frequent deliveries, take better advantage of vertical space so that you max out cube and not just area, and leverage robust inventory management technology.

  3. Limited Machine Capacity: Whether it's material handling, production equipment, or quality inspection tools, insufficient capacity acts as a major bottleneck. This translates to production delays, missed deadlines, and increased strain on existing equipment. Solution: First, remember that, unless you have a machine that is a true bottleneck and cannot produce enough material to meet your demand, maximizing OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness, a way to determine how much your equipment is running) leads to waste via making inventory that doesn’t have a buyer. With that said, conduct thorough capacity assessments, consider automation or equipment upgrades, and explore partnerships with specialized facilities for overflow needs. I’ll stomp my foot on this last part…when you’re looking at your value stream, recognize what you’re good at and what others are better at; take full advantage of the third-party process suppliers near you.

  4. Scarcity of Specialized Space: Clean rooms, laboratories, and classified areas have unique environmental, security, and safety requirements. A lack of such specialized spaces can hinder research, development, and production of sophisticated A&D components. Solution: Treat your specialized spaces with the same consideration you treat your machines and include them as finite-capacity nodes in your value stream maps. Also, partner with universities or research institutions for specialized facilities, build up a portfolio of on-demand lab services, invest in modular clean room solutions, and size your classified areas with growth in mind. On a quick side note, nobody likes working in a cramped classified assembly area that clearly was an afterthought…size up!

Beyond perception, prioritize analysis

Before embarking on costly expansions or upgrades, distinguish genuine shortages from perceived limitations. Ask yourself:

  • Is this truly impacting production, or is it more about underutilized space or inefficient processes?

  • Have you explored alternative solutions like optimized layouts, outsourcing, or digital space management tools?

  • If expansion is necessary, have you conducted a thorough cost-benefit analysis and considered future-proofing your investments?

Remember, throwing money at the problem isn't a sustainable solution. A multifaceted approach is key. Combine targeted investments with operational improvements, strategic partnerships, and innovative technologies to unlock bottlenecks and ensure long-term competitiveness.

Join the dialogue

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. Have you encountered specific infrastructure challenges within your A&D operations? What solutions have you found effective?

Stay tuned for the next and last installment, where we'll delve into potential solutions that address the integrated challenge A&D manufacturing leaders face when dealing with labor, material, and infrastructure issues all at once..

P.S. Don't miss my previous posts on labor and material shortages:

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