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This paper is written from the perspective of an aerospace manufacturer. Although some differences with other industries exist, the essence of the needs, problems, and solutions for electronic integrated product development should be similar across industry sectors.

Background

Aerospace is a high-technology industry that necessarily pushes the envelope of the possible. It has been said that aerospace therefore is not a good example of the manufacturing industry as a whole. If that were ever true, it is certainly not so today. Although aerospace manufacturing technologies are often state of the art, they must increasingly be applied within constraints of practicality; there must be a business pull. We must be innovative in how we work, do more with less, and concentrate on making an affordable product, not a masterpiece. These are common needs among manufacturing organizations today. Fortunately, aerospace can return to its roots for salvation, and other industries should be able to do the same.

The Early Days

In the early decades of this century, airplane manufacturers assembled their resources in a hangar and loft. Design, manufacture, and assembly were carried out by the same group of people, who often had close ties with those who would operate and support the product. Experienced staff and funds were scarce. Innovation and teamwork were necessary conditions for success. The processes by which work was accomplished were identified implicitly by the workers, who were usually considerable stakeholders in the enterprise. Processes were reengineered on the fly, and all concerned knew why and with what results. This scenario can differ little from those in other industries in their early days of growth.

Growth and Decline

What happened, of course, is that as airplanes grew more complex, and specifications from different customers began to diverge, specialties grew and companies reorganized to gain efficiencies. As markets expanded commercially and governments began to focus on aviation, performance often became more important than product cost; and product cost was considered that of acquisition only rather than including support through a number of years. Upstream innovation to help downstream functions was mostly lost. Information of a "total-product" nature was not available, as functions concentrated on what was needed from their narrow perspectives. A world war followed by the beginning of the Cold War put increasing emphasis on survival, and thus on product performance in increasingly complex missions. Cost retreated further as a major consideration.

The boundary conditions began to change in the last decade or so. As the capability of the threat increased, the likelihood of drawn-out conflict decreased. The ability to keep weapons systems available for action a larger percent of the time became increasingly important. As product complexity grew to meet the growing threat, cost regained its place as a prime factor in product selection, and a product's life-cycle aspect emerged. With the disappearance of the threat to survival in the last few years, coupled with the lethargy of the global economy and its effect on commercial aircraft sales, aerospace was suddenly presented with a completely new marketplace, with new rules and conditions, not yet stabilized. The question of survival began to apply not to the nation but rather to the company.

The resulting gyrations of downsizing and becoming lean to meet market realities are well known. Though perhaps in some cases the scope and degree are less, other industries are experiencing similar trauma. There are fatalities, mergers, and a return to a focus on base expertise. Increasingly organizations are analyzing where they need to go, from what basis; when they have to arrive to survive and prosper; and how they might proceed within practical constraints.



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