Aerospace Shops: Remain Innovative

Here is some good news from the aerospace industry. Both commercial and defense airplane orders increased simultaneously for the first time in decades, according to the Teal Group, an independent aerospace consulting firm.

Columns From: 5/1/2007 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Derek Korn

Here is some good news from the aerospace industry. Both commercial and defense airplane orders increased simultaneously for the first time in decades, according to the Teal Group, an independent aerospace consulting firm. In 2006, Boeing set a company record for total yearly orders with 1,044 net commercial airplane orders. In addition, Honeywell International projects demand for 8,000 new helicopters through 2017.

Now consider the fact that UPS recently joined FedEx and International Lease Finance Corp. in cancelling orders for the Airbus A380 freighter version because it doubted delivery times could be met.

By including this last point, I’m not singling out Airbus as being the only aerospace manufacturer currently facing production challenges. But it leads one to wonder whether the general aerospace supply chain is in a position to keep up with increasing numbers of new aircraft orders. Will it soon be necessary for aerospace shops to substantially change their machining processes to keep pace with demand?

Developing and implementing fundamentally different practices to improve a shop’s manufacturing efficiency require a business culture characterized by ongoing innovation. This applies to companies at every level of the supply chain.

Keep in mind the following paraphrased observations that Jim McNerney, Boeing’s chairman, president and CEO, offered in a speech related to business innovation at St. Louis University last year.

Innovation is a team sport, not a solo sport. It requires a culture of technical sharing and openness to others. People must work together across different groups and organizational lines to make innovation happen.

Innovation may have nothing to do with new technology. Fundamental change can result from the creative application of common, off-the-shelf technologies.

The “eureka” moment is mostly a fantasy. Innovative ideas both big and small can often be traced to one resource—an intimate knowledge of the customer. And more often than not, lasting innovation is inspired by the customer.

Innovation often involves small, incremental improvements. Those combined improvements benefit current business operations and open new opportunities.

Creativity requires discipline. Not all ideas are created equal, and managers must possess the discipline to nix some projects and give the green light to others.

Ultimately, leadership creates the conditions that enable innovative thinking to flourish.

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