Agile Manufacturing for the Aerospace Industry

March 28, 2019 , in Blog

We make it a point to watch the takeoffs and landings of space vehicles whenever possible. It is fascinating to see all of the command center personnel, each with an important role in ensuring that the flight concludes without any unwanted incidents. The sheer number of people involved speaks to the complexity of aerospace travel and the coordination that would be required if a contingency or change were required. Similar coordination is necessary during the design and development of aerospace devices and systems.

Flight control room

In particular, aerospace vehicles are very complex, comprising of many electronic devices and PCBs that may be developed simultaneously. This concurrent engineering approach has distinct advantages, including reduced development time, which is a major concern for the new space race. However, incorporating changes among multiple development teams can be problematic and negate the time advantages. To address this and other potential contingency issues, agile manufacturing for the aerospace industry is instituted. But before examining how this can be done, we should first have a clear understanding of what is meant by agile manufacturing.

Tenets of Agile Manufacturing

With the ever-increasing utilization of electronic devices across virtually all industries, the need for functionality and capability improvement is a constant challenge for designers and developers. The demands for change may come from: market demands for more advanced products; the introduction of technological advancements that must be incorporated to remain competitive; regulatory modifications; or the need for specification adjustments. Accommodating these types of changes requires your contract manufacturer’s (CM’s) PCB manufacturing process to exhibit some degree of flexibility.

Agile manufacturing can be thought of as the amount of flexibility inherent to the process of building your boards. More formally:

“Agile manufacturing is an organization’s ability and capacity to quickly respond to changes in customer demands and/or industry requirements without compromising the quality of services or products or needing to make major process changes or resource acquisitions.”

The benefits of agile manufacturing for PCB manufacturing include reduced costs and increased efficiency, which are realizable from other strategies, such as lean manufacturing. However, lean manufacturing is based on minimization, while the objective of agile manufacturing is robustness in terms of capabilities. The most agile manufacturing process is able to respond to a wide range of challenges with no loss in product quality and minimal loss in process speed or cost.

Agile Manufacturing For The Aerospace Industry

PCB design and manufacturing in the aerospace industry is heavily regulated. Therefore, the most important requirement for any development strategy is to know and follow the pertinent industry standards. There are also board fabrication, component procurement and PCB assembly mistakes that must be avoided; otherwise, your design will not qualify for use in aerospace systems.

With the increased utilization of space platforms like satellites and the transformation of the aerospace industry by commercial expansion over the last few decades, the paradigm for aerospace design and development has shifted from slow and meticulous to a much faster process. As a result, there is a pressing need for agile manufacturing for the aerospace industry for PCB and electronics providers to remain competitive.

Requirements for Agile Manufacturing for the Aerospace Industry

Although the term “agile manufacturing” is used quite a bit, not all PCB developers are able to meet the requirements for its implementation. And with the added quality standards and utilization of concurrent engineering teams prevalent for aerospace electronics and systems development, the pool of qualified CMs is even smaller. However, if you and your CM can employ the following as part of your PCB development strategy, then agile manufacturing is achievable.

  • Early identification or detection of needed changes

As changes may come from clients, regulatory sources or technological advances, continuous awareness and monitoring are required.

  • Ability to quickly institute design changes

Once the need for changes has been detected, any modification or redesign must be instituted immediately. Delays here will result in unnecessary costs and lost development time.

  • Open and transparent communication between developer and CM

Communication between you and your CM is critical for the timely resolution of issues that require changes to your board’s fabrication, component procurement, and PCB assembly.

  • CM’s ability to quickly implement design changes

The degree of agility of your development process is directly related to your CM’s capabilities. Therefore, it is imperative that you partner with a PCB manufacturer qualified to build boards to aerospace standards.

For PCB development to be maximally responsive to changes, it is necessary that the designer and CM have an open, transparent relationship such that new specifications or modifications can be identified and communicated as quickly as possible. This quick response capability depends upon your CM having the equipment, capabilities, and expertise to incorporate the changes needed for an agile manufacturing process that rises to the level of aerospace development.

Tempo‘s Custom Avionics for PCB Manufacturing Service
  • CM for 2 of the industries top 10 aerospace and defense manufacturers and 2 of the 10 satellite producers.
  • AS9100D and IPC J-STD-001E with Space Addendum certified manufacturing processes.
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600 and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Accurate quote in less than a day.
  • DFM support from Day 1 of design.
  • Entire turnkey PCB manufacturing in as fast as 3 days.
  • Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry to reduce procurement time and help with component security.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during PCB assembly to ensure PCB quality for prototyping.
  • Standard quality testing, including X-ray and inline AOI.

Tempo Automation is the industry leader in fast, high-quality PCB prototyping and low volume production, which aligns with production numbers typically required for aerospace systems. Our white box approach to manufacturing promotes open and rapid communication, which is required for agile PCB development.

To help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on agile manufacturing for the aerospace industry or how to incorporate this capability into your product development process, contact us.

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