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Composites Taking Flight (Part 3): Top 3 Components of a Healthy Composite Supply Chain

September 20, 2019

Combatting Fragmentation and Inefficiencies

Composites materials are revolutionizing aircraft manufacturing. But supply chain problems create serious difficulties for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier 1 manufacturers.
These include opaque and fragmented supplier relationships, time-and-temperature-sensitive materials, and the channeling of resources to costly and labor-intensive processes. Ultimately, these problems can lead to disruptions in production schedules, if not complete line shutdowns.

In order to take advantage of the benefits of FRP materials without the operational inefficiencies, manufacturers can implement these three factors into their supply chain:

  1. Visibility and traceability
  2. Smarter inventory management
  3. Efficiency-creating services
By incorporating these solutions into their operations, OEMs can transform their supply chain into a more adaptable and agile ecosystem.

1. Create Visibility & Traceability Across the Supply Chain

Visibility and Traceability
Within a single manufacturer’s supply chain, there may be several different, simultaneous strategies and uncoordinated sourcing activities. The lack of clear communication and consistency between OEMs and their broad supplier bases creates problems. OEMs can even come into direct competition with their own sub-tier suppliers over the same materials.

In response to this, it is necessary for manufacturers to foster closer collaborations with sub-tier suppliers and create multi-tier transparency. This allows for an improved ability to forecast and plan for disruptions in the supply chain before they become production-delaying problems, facilitating a greater level of control and agility in operations.

One way to achieve this improved collaboration is to partner with value add suppliers that consolidate the supply base and enable supply chain visibility. Such suppliers can provide full traceablility of products back to the raw material, along with valuable data needed to maintain efficient operations. 

2. Implement Data-Driven Inventory Management

Data-driven inventory management
Too often, inventory management is reactive instead of proactive, where the fear of stock shortages leads to over-buying. This is problematic not only because of the inventory burden, but also the limited shelf-life of composites which increases the risk of wasted materials. Minimizing excess inventory must be considered alongside avoiding stock outages.

Access to data is critical to this effort. With a large and diverse supplier base, material demand aggregation strategies are effective. These create a sum-total view of production materials being purchased throughout an entire supply chain. Regardless of whether the product is being bought by contract manufacturers or an OEM itself, the summation of total material spend allows for comprehensive spend analytics. This data can be used to eliminate excess inventory across the extended supply chain and move away from a fragmented approach to purchasing.

Alternatively, service providers that offer composite inventory management services as well as material demand aggregation are another effective option. Utilizing forecasting data and producer lead times, these services manage inventory levels based on real-time usage and transparency into the full supply chain. 

OEMs must decide whether to manage composite inventory themselves or outsource the responsibility to an independent provider. While the latter entails more upfront costs, it can pay off over time from improved cash flow and resource allocation.

3. Take Advantage of Services that Create Efficiencies

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Composites entail a labor-intensive process, from the acquisition of raw materials to pre-impregnation, custom cutting, temperature-controlled delivery, autoclaving, and a series of other steps. 

The labor and equipment necessary for these processes are expensive and take up space, often making it more efficient for manufacturers to outsource them and focus solely on production. Examples of processes that could be outsourced include pre-impregnation, custom shape cutting, testing, and off-site storage.

It’s also beneficial for OEMs to capitalize on services that lower costs by streamlining production. Receiving the materials needed to build a part on time is critical. Receiving them in an easy-to-use and highly organized way is even better. 

Services like point-of-use delivery and pre-assembled kits can add efficiencies to manufacturing floors, saving time immediately and spend in the long run.

A Comprehensive Solution

Composite assembly
With aircraft seeing higher build rates, multiyear backlogs, and increasing composite content by weight, the aerospace composite market is trending toward continued expansion. Simultaneously, competition and supply chain issues create several difficulties for manufacturers in sourcing and managing FRP materials.

In the face of these supply chain challenges, OEMs need solutions that eliminate critical inefficiencies. Greater visibility across the extended supply chain, smarter inventory management, and services that foster efficiency in production all create a more accountable, transparent, and agile supply chain.

Wesco Composite Management Services helps aircraft manufacturers introduce efficiencies and accountability into their supply chains. Whether you are an OEM or a Tier 1 manufacturer, Wesco Aircraft is equipped to handle your composite pre-preg and composite management needs.

Learn about how we can optimize your composite supply chain here.
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