The Comments and Observations that Stuck: American Aerospace & Defense Summit 2019

Elemica’s Customer Solutions Representative, Bill Alrich, reflects on comments and observations at American Aerospace & Defense Summit 2019

The  American Aerospace & Defense Summit 2019 took place in Glendale AZ on December 11th and 12th.   With more than 200 attendees and 80 speakers, it was a whirlwind of networking, brainstorming and deal-making.

The official program was divided into four tracks; Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Technology and Engineering, and Quality with speakers drawn from a mix of big-name OEMs and Tier1s and smaller consulting and specialty firms. As usual, many of the most interesting discussions took place in the exhibit hall, at the networking receptions and in the meal-time roundtables.

What were the recurring themes in all of this? I heard a few things over and over:
  • The Trump Administration’s willingness to ignore established processes when making decisions is creating uncertainty and making it difficult to plan.
  • Congressional dysfunction and lack of cooperation are jeopardizing funding for key projects and initiatives.
  • The Boeing 737 Max debacle has forced everyone to reconsider their testing and validation protocols, and those of their suppliers’.
  • Innovative new materials and technologies are creating new opportunities that will be here “soon”, but everyone has a different idea about when that will be.
So, what were the most interesting comments and observations I heard? Here are a few:
  • In one plenary session, a VP of Supply Chain with Northrup Grumman mentioned, that a big challenge for many companies was keeping their suppliers up to date on the latest design changes and tweaks. “Engineers always have a better idea” but making sure it gets shared with the affected partners, and that they actually see it, is the hard part. Getting their feedback without a blizzard of emails and voice messages is another subject and Excel™, which is what many companies use, is not adequate to handle it.
  • A Director of Operations with Leornardo DRS pointed out that ongoing supplier development is a crucial requirement of many of his customers. But that requires having Procurement and Quality groups communicate and getting them to do it effectively, and routinely, is difficult. “They need to understand that it’s a buffet, not a baton. They can’t just hand it off and forget about it.”
  • A Sr. Manager of Supplier Quality with Collins Aerospace explained that while supplier scorecards from their ERP system were sufficient having access to more detail would be valuable. In particular, SPC analysis of crucial quality elements would be helpful but currently requires extra software and manual data exports.
  • A Vice President of Strategy with Meggit, spoke about how the industry was experiencing a loss of expertise as suppliers quit or retired.  Tier 4 and 5 suppliers, in particular, have no structure to capture project knowledge and history, information that would be crucial in the future since 60-75% of the components in finished systems were outsourced. The industry “…needs process, not technology” to help suppliers cope with this.
  • One attendee remarked on the integration challenges and time inefficiencies experienced with customer portals. In fact, their company had to hire additional full-time employees to handle orders coming in via 100+ portals!

… that was just the tip of the iceberg. See below for thought leadership Elemica has published related to many of the topics discussed at the American Aerospace and Defense Summit 2019 or please contact us for further discussion!