Thus far, we have posted deep-dives on the first nine of our 2017 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains.  The one prediction remaining is our final Prediction Ten, which for each year, dives into what we foresee as unique industry-specific supply chain challenges or environments for the coming year.

This year’s industry-specific challenges were especially challenging in that we contemplated adding a lot of industries, more so than prior years. In the end, we will hone in on those industries that merit additional monitoring and updates in the coming months. As Editor, I have also decided for the purposes of brevity and reader interest, to present each industry in a separate Supply Chain Matters blog posting. We will be also posting these industry-specific predictions in a faster cadence.

Our prior Prediction Ten posting, we dived into Automotive Supply Chain Residing Across North America

Next-up:

Commercial Aerospace Manufacturing Supply Chains  Boeing_787_SC

Once again, for many former and now new challenges, we have once again included commercial aircraft supply chains in our industry-specific predictions for 2017.

Commercial aerospace focused supply chains will have an especially challenging year in 2017 from several dimensions. While Airbus and Boeing both declared that they each exceeded operational performance targets in 2016, the numbers indicate that an industry inflection point is at-hand, one that has implications for the collective industry supply chain ecosystems. The overall demand for larger, wide aisle aircraft is now showing signs of contraction. Added challenges remain in the number of planned new product introductions in the coming quarters, and the industry has now discovered some weak links in supply, namely new more technologically sophisticated aircraft engines and certain other troublesome components.

Our stream of research and observations related to commercial aircraft supply chains have painted a picture of an industry that has created extraordinary levels of product demand streams by designing and manufacturing new generations of more technology laden, far more fuel efficient new aircraft. This has led to the enviable position of having order backlogs of upwards of $1.5 trillion that extend outwards of ten years. At the same time, an industry with a track record of prior challenges in its ability to more rapidly scale-up overall aircraft production levels are clashing with the industry dynamics of both Airbus and Boeing in their desire to deliver higher margins, profitability, and more timely shareholder returns.

Smack in the middle of these dynamics are relationships among suppliers, a need to continue to invest in expanded production capacity and innovation capability and now meet shareholder return needs. Suppliers have been buffeted by various OEM demands for larger cost and productivity savings. In the specific case of Boeing, suppliers to the wide body 787 program are now being asked to step-down pricing related to prior volume ramp-up needs as Boeing seeks to better balance new order flows with annual production.

A Declared Industry Inflection Point

Aviation Week, a well-respected and highly followed industry publication made a declaration in an early January 2017 commentary: The End of the Airbus-Boeing Supercycle. (Free complimentary sign-up account required)

This declaration declares:

After a remarkable 12-year boom, world aircraft industry output growth sputtered to a halt in 2016. The market fell 1.2% (in constant dollars) relative to 2015, the first aggregate decline since 2003. While military demand remains robust, most civil segments are feeling the impact of negative macroeconomic and geopolitical developments.”

This commentary further observes:

The jetliner market is just finishing a 12-year supercycle. Airbus and Boeing guidance, until recently, indicated that they expect a 17-year supercycle. That now looks unlikely to happen. For some time now, there has been a disconnect between airliner market prosperity and the rest of the world economy, which is seeing higher instability and slower growth. The jetliner industry, unfortunately, is falling in line with that macro environment.”

While Aviation Week anticipates some modest growth in commercial aircraft deliveries this year, it will be half-that experienced over the past 12 years. Most order growth going forward is anticipated in the single-aisle segment with the twin-aisle market being declared as flat at best. Meanwhile, jet fuel prices are again rising adding more financial pressures on airlines to operate more efficiently.

Implications

For the industry’s respective multi-tier supply chain, the implications of this inflection point are sobering for planning windows through the year 2020. After 2020, the industry may well be in a decline from the current 12-year cycle. The decline of new order flows for higher margin wide aisle aircraft place the major emphasis on narrower margin single-aisle aircraft that must produce higher volumes to meet financial business objectives.

The notions of euphoria in multi-year order backlogs will likely be replaced with more conservative, but far more detailed planning pitting OEM’s and suppliers at-odds with mutual win-win financial performance objectives.  The challenge for Airbus and Boeing will be in implementing increased production automation, higher levels of end-to-end, multi-tier supply chain visibility with far more informed supply chain wide insights and business intelligence.

Other Supply Chain Challenges

New Product Introduction

As was the case in the prior three years, the industry again has important NPI milestones this year.

For U.S., based Boeing, the first 737 MAX 8 is scheduled to delivered to Southwest Airlines in the first-half of this year, followed by 737 MAX 9 model later in the year. This aircraft has been five years in development and will feature a far more automated production process that must now be ramped to expected volumes. An expanded 787-10 Dreamliner, designed to carry more passengers and utilizing more carbon fiber content is scheduled for first flight this spring. For the first time, Boeing North Charlestown facility will have sole manufacturing responsibility for this model.

European based Airbus likewise has important NPI milestones this year. The second iteration of Airbus’s revamped single-aisle family, the A321 neo (new engine option), will enter service in 2017. It will represent the largest member of the updated A320 neo family and has significant dependencies on newly designed, more fuel-efficient engines being supplied by CFM International along with Pratt & Whitney. The 366-seat long-range A350-1000 representing the biggest twin-engine jet Airbus has ever designed, with eventually compete with the Boeing 777-300ER. First customer ship to flagship customer Qatar Airways is scheduled for late 2017 and this airline has had a pointed relationship with Airbus regarding meeting expectations.

Weak or Critical Links

Commercial aircraft supply chains are often described as constantly dealing with exceptions or surprises. Whether it is an unexpected notice of late-delivery from a key supplier, components that unexpectedly slip from meeting highly engineered conformance standards, or having full visibility to events or risks occurring across the extended supply chain.  With the current wave of new, more technologically laden aircraft models, engineering specifications are more demanding and new process technologies such as 3D printing and other additive or automated manufacturing techniques are now present. Yet, amid such an environment, the industry is now hard at work meeting and sustaining higher volume production and supply chain cadence needs.

One of the most critical supply links in 2017 will be that of aircraft engine manufactures, which collectively must now transition revolutionary new designed engines into meeting high- volume manufacturing and customer delivery requirements of aircraft OEMS.

In the single-aisle aircraft category, two prime manufacturers, CFM International (joint venture of Safran Aircraft Engines of France and General Electric Aircraft Engines) and Pratt & Whitney, are prime power plant options based on airline selection. CFM had planned to deliver a total of 100 of its new LEAP engines in 2016, but could deliver but 77. For 2017, 500 LEAP engine deliveries are being planned. For Pratt, a series of highly visible supply chain related challenges related to the new geared turbo-fan (GTF) PurePower engines contributed to a delay in deliveries for the Airbus A320 neo and Bombardier C-Series programs. In 2016, Pratt delivered 138 GTF engines, 62 of which were in the final Q4 quarter. Pratt plans to produce between 350-400 engines in 2017, but some identified component reliability issues have some of these engines designated as spares to support airline uptime requirements. Any subsequent slippage or delivery disruptions from either of these two engine suppliers will likely impact planned OEM deliveries to customers.

In the wide-aisle, long distance aircraft segment, Rolls Royce and its family of Trent engines have served as the workhorses of these larger, more fuel-efficient aircraft. For the past three years, Rolls has been challenged with profitability performance as well as allegations of bribery practices related to sales of various products. Revenues from commercial aircraft engines currently make-up upwards of one-half of revenues, yet Rolls has not been able to control costs related to design and manufacturing.  A new restructuring plan calls for this aerospace engine provider to double production levels by 2020, which is being described as the fastest ramp-up in its history. The company is headquartered in the United Kingdom, and thus any effects of Brexit in terms of currency, trade, or tariff issues are a further open question.

While on the topic of Brexit, the United Kingdom hosts several aerospace providers who serve the technology and equipment component needs of various global commercial aircraft manufacturers. Depending on the outcome of the European Union and British exit terms related to currency, tariffs, taxes, trade and population movement, aircraft model producers may well have to assess any impacts to costs, pricing and added risks.

 

This concludes our 2017 prediction related specially to commercial aerospace supply chains.

In our next posting, related to Prediction Ten, we will dive into consumer packaged goods and beverage focused supply chains.

Readers are reminded to review all our prior 2017 predictions postings.  And a final reminder, all ten of our 2017 predictions will be available in a full research report which we expect to be available for downloading in our Research Center by February 10th.

Bob Ferrari

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