In our aerospace supply chain focused commentaries, Supply Chain Matters has featured ongoing commentary regarding the upcoming certification of the Airbus A350 wide-body commercial airliner. A350_XWB_first_flight_350242 Last week we noted how Airbus has increased the visibility to the current certification testing phase for this aircraft.

This blog pays special attention to commercial aerospace supply chains for two specific reasons. In today’s world of aerospace, the large OEM’s have far more overall reliance on the product and process innovation capabilities of their supplier eco-systems. Secondly, this industry is rather unique in its scope and complexity of global supply chain challenges, including having upwards of 5-8 years of current customer order backlog. Aerospace OEM’s, each have unique styles in their focus on engineering, supplier management and collaboration.

Last night, this author was reading the latest edition of Bloomberg Businessweek, which includes the article: How Airbus is Debugging the A350. I am always fascinated on how a complex, engineering-driven supply chain ultimately designs, tests and produces today’s complex commercial aircraft loaded with incredible levels of product and process technology. If you have such an interest, than I encourage you to read this article. Airbus has a lot riding on the success of the A350, which could represent 40 percent of this OEM’s revenue stream in the next 20 years.

The author, Jeff Wise, does a great job of profiling how Airbus is maturing its engineering development processes based on important learnings derived from one of the largest and most complex commercial aircraft, the A380. Noted is that there are 7000 engineers working on the A350, with roughly half of these engineers not employees of Airbus, but rather of its key suppliers. Airbus specifically wants to avoid the kinds of problems that have been associated rival Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.

Important learnings have included the need for a singular Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software system, creating a single electronic rendering of an aircraft that every program engineer can reference or modify when needed. Today’s modern commercial aircraft come with a host of sophisticated sub-systems, with many more potential failure modes. Testing and production are conducted on a global basis and highly coordinated. Simulation systems are used extensively. Decision-making has been de-centralized and Airbus believes in transparency with suppliers.

As noted in our previous commentary, Airbus test engineers report that the A350 testing program to-date has uncovered half as many problems as previous programs, leading to a heightened sense of optimism.  Yet, current test teams know to always expect the unexpected.

The Bloomberg article provides a great snapshot of how engineering and design development are much more integrated with global supply chain management for aerospace environments.  And make no mistake, Airbus has learned a lot from what has occurred with the Boeing 787 program.

It is a good read.

Bob Ferrari