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Airbus Defence and Space Operations: A Human-Business Ecosystem Challenging the Future

Issue 96

At the TMB 2019 dinner on November 5, 2019 Barbara BERGMEIER, Executive Vice President (EVP) of Operations at Airbus Defence and Space (ADS) met journalists and shared her comments on how Airbus, as an Operations team manages digitalization in a human centric ecosystem to foster competitiveness, highlighting the importance of people and suppliers that play essential roles in achieving success.

Airbus Defence and Space appointed Barbara BERGMEIER, as Head of Operations and a Member of the Executive Committee as of December 2018. Thanks to her leadership and experience in complex industrial ecosystems performed over the years, she has lead with her expertise and strong international background in many areas such as Manufacturing-Operations, Digital Transformation, Supply Chain Management, Production Restructuring, Design and Set-up of assembly lines.

During her address at the dinner as Barbara BERGMEIER shared, ADS Operations are focused on following concepts:

Operations in Airbus Defence and Space 

Low volumes, huge variability requires flexibility: Defence and Space manufacturing processes have low volumes but huge variability. Airbus’ products, whether they are satellites or military aircraft are highly sophisticated products, requiring specific competences that might differ significantly from one program to another. This requires huge flexibility, which put its people at the center of its factories.

Enterprise of the Future - Digital Transformation in Operations

The factory of the future technologies on the shop floor: 3D work orders, mixed reality.  Transformation of an A330 aircraft to a multi-role tanker and transporter is done with smart glasses equipped with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology, which simulate the results of all actions taken by technicians on the aircraft. 

It is easier and more reliable than ever before for a technician to install meters of cables on the plane or to work on avionics systems using these technological glasses. Also, the company’s training documents are incorporated to the system and integrated its internal training processes with VR technology. Every time the employees put on the glasses, they find themselves in a classroom and can see all the course notes. 

The introduction of 8 Digital Initiatives in ADS Production has improved company’s processes by far – today daily routines, work orders, production controlling and remote support are based on digital tools and by this it has decreased the lead time and is improving the Quality of ADS’ Products the same time. 

In Space Systems, Airbus is introducing these technologies currently as well, one example is the next generation CO3D high resolution satellite which will be produced on a Pulse Line with a high degree of automatization and supported by digital tools.

Standardization of its processes: Digitizing its processes, Lean, Excellence System.Lean principles and digitalization shall go hand in hand. Since the company wants to improve in terms of efficiency and flexibility in all areas of its manufacturing businesses – FALs, Aerostructures, Spacecraft and MRO Airbus does not forget this fact and puts a lot of emphasis on its Operational Excellence System to improve continuously.

Connectivity of its systems: Need for Digital Backbone, end to end continuity. Standalone innovation is quite common. Connecting all innovations initiatives is another challenge.  For this reason, Airbus is aiming for a standard digital backbone with One Single Enterprise Resource Planning or One Single MES (Manufacturing Execution System) and a full end to end digital continuity from Engineering to Production, Quality and even to its suppliers.  This is the necessary step to maximize the full benefits from the data analytics revolution. This will be fully tested in new FCAS and EuroDrone (MALE RPAS) programs.

Airbus wants to secure an end-to-end digital continuity from Engineering to Production, from design to manufacturing and services, with a complete digital visibility and continuity of data.

This is granted by the program DDMS - Digital Design, Manufacturing & Services. It is about designing, building, supporting and operating complex products and services. 

It enables the movement from sequential production processes to an end-to-end approach having data stored centrally which will create value by lowering costs and reduce lead time. 

The data revolution, future competitive advantage. The usage of data basis for artificial intelligence is also providing a competitive advantage in Operations. Airbus has already achieved some successes in this domain such as in reducing the operating costs compared to previous big data analysis. The main idea is to identify patterns in Airbus data and accelerate the company’s learning process to improve its product quality. Anticipating issues much further in advance before they arise is a key factor, for example in the case of missing parts or reducing the cost of Non-Quality based on previous big data analysis.

Digital Ambition Including its Suppliers: Supply Chain Management 

Airbus is doing business with approximately 10,000 suppliers from more than 60 countries. In order to maximize knowledge, efficiency and performance within its supply base – and in turn Airbus’ overall performance – it is key to work in close and trust-based collaborations. 

The digitalization of supply chain operations will help suppliers achieve better performance. With information management roadmaps, automation of KPIs and ordering, robotics, digital tools for purchase to payment processes, and data analytics, it is on track in the digital evolution.

Smart logistics: Whether it is delivering or storing critical parts in warehouses for its manufacturing operations, many of the technological bricks required to completely transform this activity are available. For instance, Airbus can now follow the goods being transported by a digital tracking tool based in IoT for geo-localization, and smart systems are also being used to manage warehouses, as well as inventory control using drones. 

Production Optimization - Design and Set-up of assembly lines

The Airbus Defence and Space Excellence System provides the best solution for different needs for a smooth, uninterrupted flow of information, material and people to achieve higher value adding operations. It depends on the respective circumstances and production rate equal to customer demand with the lowest life cycle cost. 

A moving assembly line has been proven as the right system for the C295 Fuselage Assembly to ensure that the customer’s needs are met on time.  Additionally, for the Integrated Fuselage Assembly of A400M a Pulse Line has been chosen.  This approach has already implemented and an increase of 20% of productivity and reduction of lead time and inventory around 9% in ADS’ Spanish and German production plants has been achieved.

A Human Centric Organization: Leadership and Values, Safety and Wellbeing, Employee Development and Skills Ready for Digital

In order to embrace the enterprise of the future, having Value driven Leaders as role models and those who develop their employees and create the best work environment is essential. 

Safety and wellbeing are at the core of Airbus activities. Ergonomic projects through the assessment of each work station improve working conditions. Health and Safety communication and improvement campaigns are deployed to secure the awareness and the engage of all Operations employees.  Key competences are also critical and this is becoming even more true with the deployment of its new digital solutions