Airbus Crashes: Is the Design Engineering / Sourcing Interface to Blame?

Over on the excellent blog Rearranging the Deck Chairs Michael Krigsman waxes eloquent on the art and science of IT implementation failures -- what goes wrong, why, where, and how. Last week, he posted a succinct entry discussing Airbus' design and sourcing software failures. But actually, when reading his piece, it seems to me to be more of a PLM issue than a sourcing one, although the integration of design engineering, procurement, and the supplier community is a huge cross functional challenge for many companies.

In his write-up, Michael quotes a Business Week piece noting that, "Early this year, when pre-assembled bundles containing hundreds of miles of cabin wiring were delivered from a German factory to the assembly line in France, workers discovered that the bundles, called harnesses, didn’t fit properly into the plane. Assembly slowed to a near-standstill, as workers tried to pull the bundles apart and re-thread them through the fuselage. Now Airbus will have to go back to the drawing board and redesign the wiring system ... It's shaping up to be one of the costliest blunders in the history of commercial aerospace."

Given the extent to which Airbus has invested in more traditional design and procurement technologies, their failure to more fully integrate the design, sourcing, and operational areas from both a process and technology perspective is all the more telling -- especially given that a single project failure has cost the A&D giant billions of dollars.

On a higher level, the blog made we think about how in the A&D world today, the role of suppliers is increasingly being blurred. Are suppliers design and manufacturing partners? Are they responsible for a growing part of the supply chain? Are they an extension of the prime's own manufacturing operation? The answer is all of the above. Given this, over the long term, I think that we'll all come to observe one key Spend Management lesson of the A380. And that is that it's not enough merely to optimize for individual functions and processes involving internal organizations and suppliers. Rather, it is the coordination of activities across internal and external stakeholders -- whether they're next door or across the globe -- which is key. Here's an opportunity where we can all learn on Airbus' Euro Dime.

Jason Busch

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