Configuration management - Potential for aviation suppliers

Mar 21, 2022
The first airliners are flying at a higher rate again and experts are forecasting stable passenger numbers for 2022. Nevertheless, the aviation industry is not out of the crisis yet. Why is that?
Like other crises in recent years, the pandemic has triggered a domino effect. Cancelled orders, production stops and an unclear future make planning difficult. This causes hesitation and has an impact on every single stakeholder in the supply chain, from the parts supplier to the original equipment manufacturer.

Other industries are facing similar problems, and yet these seem to be recovering...
It is not only the collapse and sometimes even the paralysis of civil air traffic that pose challenges for supplier companies. Above all, digitization and a changing structure in early supply chain stages are causing industry consolidation into competing system houses, while the number of Tier 3 suppliers is increasing.

A supplier therefore must compete with significantly more competitors from its own industry, but also from other industries. At the same time, the number of customers is decreasing. What does this mean for German suppliers?
Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers must adapt their business models. German suppliers must act more globally, become more flexible and depend less on individual OEMs through industry diversification. The changing framework conditions, in combination with specialization, are proving to be an advantage here. Particularly when one thinks of the sectors traditionally related to aviation, such as the automotive industry or mechanical engineering. But newer sectors such as medical technology or industrial electronics can also be strong partners.

Does the digitalization you mentioned also play into the new business models?
Absolutely. Industry networking is central to maintaining the ability to innovate. For example, the CNS infrastructure, i.e., everything that relates to communication, navigation or monitoring, is designed for longevity. Life cycles of ten to twenty years are not uncommon. But that's also proving to be a problem these days. Technology from the 2000s cannot withstand the cyber-attacks of today. More agile action is needed: Updates must be applied more quickly and development times for IT systems must be shortened.

The aviation industry is repeatedly at the center of the debate about more sustainability, as an obstacle to the green turnaround. Don't shortened product lifetimes argue against more sustainability in aviation?
Here, too, industry diversification provides support: Technologies from other industries often benefit aviation as well and can make air travel more climate friendly. The components mentioned must retain their longevity and still be secure against cyberattacks. Fuel efficiency must be increased, while alternative propulsion methods must be explored. New uses must also be considered. Be it urban air mobility or autonomous flying.

Instead of a clear, industry-specific chain from Tier 3 to the OEM, companies are becoming increasingly networked. How can suppliers maintain an overview and ensure their quality at the same time?
The last decades have already shown that rapid development and good quality assurance are not contradictory. Management systems in all areas, from occupational health and safety to cybersecurity and quality management, are a reliable tool. Especially with industry diversification, the importance of configuration management is increasing and is a strategic future factor for supplier companies. In order to achieve standard-compliant product safety over the entire life cycle, there must be clear identification, traceability, holistic monitoring and documentation of the product. The audit serves as a verification mechanism.
The four supporting pillars of configuration management