Air Force Day

The longevity of military aircraft, if handled correctly can span several decades. This is important considering the average Boeing aircraft can cost anywhere from $89 million to more than $442 million, depending on the model.

Because of the considerable expense involved in buying new aircraft, the military aerospace industry takes the issue of extending an aircraft’s lifespan very seriously, and effective supply chain management solutions are paramount.

Distributing high-reliability components for military aircraft throughout their entire lifecycle presents multi-layered supply chain challenges. Adding to this complexity is obsolescence management as internal components for these aircraft systems, including semiconductors, and mechanical parts, have much shorter lifecycles, in some cases less than five years.

Giuseppe Bergamaschi, sales director of Milexia Italy
Giuseppe Bergamaschi, Sales Director of Milexia Italy

The prolonged operational lifecycles of military aircraft in parallel with rapid technological advancements create a dynamic landscape where components risk obsolescence before the end of an aircraft’s service life. This means managing products with long lifecycles, alongside balancing the engineering costs for eliminating internal essential components with shorter lifecycles as absolute. Supply chain disruptions, tightened budget controls, legacy system integration, and regulatory obligations further intensify the urgency for effective obsolescence management systems.

To address this ‘two-speed’ challenge military aerospace organisations must implement a complete lifecycle management framework that qualifies, all component aspects occurring during the complete lifecycle of the system. One that on every level strengthens the integration of technologies, processes, and methodologies to ensure the agility, upgradeability, and sustainability of military and aerospace systems.

Here are some of the important considerations for developing a complete management lifecycle framework:

Processes

  • lifecycle forecasting – implement proactive tools and methodologies to predict and monitor potential obsolescence issues.
  • In-depth qualification process – successful qualification, of all aspects occurring during the complete lifecycle of the system must be implemented. For the integration of the components into the manufacturing process, component deviations need to be considered as well as component tolerances within the qualification process. Additionally, the reliability of components and sub-systems considering the harsh environmental and operational situation within military air vehicles has to be taken into account.
  • Circular economy strategies – develop refurb, repair, and recycle strategies to extend life and make the best use of components in the lifecycle.
  • Robust supplier verification – to eliminate the risk of counterfeit technologies. Counterfeit components are often difficult to identify by visual inspection alone. As such, businesses must take proactive measures to detect these fake parts from the supply chain, by having strong relationships with verified suppliers.
  • Aircraft manufacturing diligence – abide by the aircraft manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule and schedule repairs, routine servicing, and inspections accordingly. Ensure all maintenance work is carried out by a highly skilled maintenance crew that can provide expertise about an aircraft’s unique and ultimate operating conditions and state of maintenance.
  • Enforce a service life assessment programme – consider a formalised service life assessment, to optimise the lifecycle potential of military aircraft. Real-time monitoring will identify issues as they arise rather than using an interval-based maintenance model. Aircraft should be systematically rotated to different tasks, in different phases of their lifecycle to test for longevity, agility, and capacity to upgrade or transition to alternative missions as they age.

Technological Innovation

  • Digitalisation, data analytics, and artificial intelligence – must be embraced to enhance predictive maintenance and proactive monitoring capabilities, improve asset tracking and management, and aid solid decision-making across the lifecycle.
  • Digital twin technology – a new evolving technology that by virtual representation of a system or a physical object holds immense potential for quantifying the impact of obsolescence and mitigation issues and strategies.
  • Obsolescence design innovation – develop modular designs with the use of open-source infrastructures to help expedite the replacement or upgrade of components as needed. Obsolescence considerations should be factored into the design of new components and offerings from the outset. Involving design experts early on in the process in cooperation with engineering units, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

People

  • Collaborative partnerships – with industry partners and government agencies to share obsolescence methodologies and co-create for developing innovative solutions.
  • Supply chain collaboration – embrace strong communication and coordination between OEMs, suppliers, and end-users to ensure a cohesive approach to obsolescence management, and the sustainability of aircraft.
  • Dedicated teams – establish a dedicated obsolescence management team responsible for tracking and addressing potential risks in a timely manner. Their role should include developing a replacement strategy, collaborating with suppliers, maintaining an obsolescence database, and strategic planning for obsolescence.
  • Educate employees – implement an ongoing training programme for the education of important best practice methodologies, and the maintenance of components. Include training schemes to educate employees on how to recognise counterfeit components. What signs to look out for when inspecting parts and how to spot fakes through comprehensive testing processes.

Technological developments are pivotal in shaping the future of military aircraft, offering transformative capabilities to enhance performance and effectiveness. To fully embrace and make the most of these technological advances organisations must not ignore the challenges of obsolescence management. A proactive and complete lifecycle approach is the only way to manage the ‘two-speed’ challenge for the long-term sustainability and operational agility of any military operation.

Source: Aero Manufacturing