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Servitization and the glass factory: AE Aerospace break the mould with transparent production.

19 February 2018

For more than 20 years, AE Aerospace has met and exceeded the aftermarket needs of the aerospace industry. Known internationally for its high precision components and sharp reactions to changes in the market, the company offers both civil and defence clients a robust and dependable engineering package, from concept to execution. One of the things that sets AE Aerospace apart from its competitors is its ability help customers get their products to market swiftly, without compromising on quality - a skill that’s in high demand as the market moves into 2018.

The next big milestone for the company and its customers will be an ambitious move to a transparent factory operation.

Realising the ‘Glass Factory’

To meet the demand and continue to exceed customer expectation, AE Aerospace has outlined a new production plan at its headquarters in the UK Midlands. At its core is the concept of the ‘glass factory’ - an open and transparent shop floor that enables production-wide visibility and faster identification of problems and potential bottlenecks. This new approach is designed to dramatically increase productivity within the factory and give clients real-time updates to help them better manage their own commitments.

In order to devise and implement the visual factory approach in an efficient and effective manner, AE Aerospace joined the Growth Programme at Aston Business School in 2015. Since then, core members of the team have participated in servitization workshops in order to improve their Advanced Services Business Model and get the very best out of it for customers.

Iain McKechnie, Director of Strategic Programmes at the Advanced Services Group at Aston Business School, said this of AE Aerospace’s involvement with the programme:

“Peter Bruch, Managing Director at AE Aerospace, has been involved with The Advanced Services Group since late 2015. He joined our programme to increase his awareness of servitization as a concept, and to learn how to integrate and develop it in order to provide better value for his customers.

AE Aerospace’s transformation journey is well underway - as demonstrated by their plans for a ‘glass factory’ - where their customers will be able to access machining schedules and utilise machining time by the hour.”

Instead of simply providing end-products to clients, the machines and tools at the AE Aerospace factory will be made available as an extension or even as a replacement of the client’s own production operations. Not only will this reduce machine down-time at AE Aerospace, it also promises to save its clients time and budget as they won’t need to pay overheads or labour costs in-house.

Iain continues:

“The Advanced Services Group helped AE Aerospace transform their thinking to focus more on the provision of services to support their products and their customers’ capability requirements rather than mere products alone.”

This is clearly something that AE Aerospace has thought about very carefully and which the company is implementing with great care. Not wanting to rush the change, the implementation of the ‘glass factory’ will happen through three clear stages.

The first ‘glass factory’ stage will enable AE Aerospace to see inside their own factory, allowing them to anticipate potential issues and streamline operations on the shopfloor. This will take the pressure off the walkabout staff whose job it is to spot issues and areas for improvement. As part of this initial stage, AE Aerospace will implement its recently upgraded Capacity Planning and Production Scheduling System to make productivity more efficient across the board.

Stage 2 will bring the customer into the fold, introducing an intuitive dashboard with real-time updates on how production is going. Crucially, clients will also be able to see estimated dispatch times to help them better plan their own operations. If something else takes priority, clients are able change running orders via an online portal, giving them an unprecedented level of control. This is servitization like never before.

The final stage aims to take the first two stages and refine them to perfection, removing all friction and barriers to production. Machines will be provided ‘by the hour’ to ensure there is minimal downtime and availability can be organised and guaranteed in advance. Run-times will be dynamic and responsive to clients’ needs, and clients will have their own production cells which they can influence themselves and control remotely.

Industry 4.0 is the chief aim for businesses throughout the industry, and while it still may be long way off for many, AE Aerospace is proving that it is within reach.