Ensuring Compliance: Parts Traceability in Aerospace Production

22 February 2024
parts traceability

Report by Danny Weller

Ensuring compliance with quality standards in aerospace machining is both crucial and complex. Beyond potential costly penalties, noncompliant components pose a risk to human lives when integrated into aircraft. The challenge amplifies due to intricate supply chains, where compliance issues can arise unexpectedly.

While manufacturers often focus on refining internal processes for better compliance, an integral aspect often overlooked is parts traceability. Understanding why this element is essential can significantly strengthen any compliance strategy.

Supply chain

Changing Supply-Chain Regulations

 

Many new and upcoming U.S. regulations are casting a spotlight on manufacturers’ suppliers. From encouraging domestic sourcing to imposing restrictions on imports and promoting sustainability, various new regulations are reshaping the aerospace industry. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) is advocating for additional regulatory adjustments in aerospace supply chains.

While the specific measures may vary, they share a common thread—heightened regulatory scrutiny on suppliers and third parties. As this trend persists, it becomes imperative to have a clear understanding of the origin and logistics of all parts. Failing to achieve this visibility could lead to expensive fines in the future. Thus it is vital to stay informed to be able to navigate these regulatory changes effectively.

parts
Image: Getty Images

Limited Visibility

 

The need for visibility in supply chains is expanding, yet many remain hidden from manufacturers. This challenge isn’t limited to tracing aircraft parts but extends across industries, where there is no visibility beyond Tier 1 suppliers, obscuring the true origins of components.

The absence of this crucial visibility undermines confidence in meeting standards for final products. Beyond regulatory concerns, a lack of visibility hides potential quality issues, posing unseen risks to aircraft safety post-production. Aerospace manufacturers must prioritize enhancing parts traceability to proactively avert these critical issues.

parts traceability
Image: Getty Images

Frequent Counterfeiting

 

Supply chain fraud presents a surprisingly common threat. With a staggering $600-billion global industry, counterfeiting isn’t limited to fake retail goods but extends to manufacturers as well. Many companies unwittingly handle counterfeit parts, and due to the complexity of supplier networks, detecting their entry into the supply chain poses a significant challenge.

In mid-2023, the aerospace industry confronted this issue when inspectors discovered counterfeit components in the widely installed aircraft engine used in Boeing Airbus, operated by major U.S. airlines. Enhanced parts traceability stands as a crucial solution to prevent such widespread crises.

How to Enhance Traceability

 

Enhancing aerospace supply-chain visibility is paramount considering these risks. Fortunately, numerous strategies can be employed to achieve this objective. Let’s delve into some of the most crucial steps:

Enhancing Identification Processes

To ensure the authenticity of aircraft parts, manufacturers must adopt robust, fraud-resistant identification methods. Relying on paper documentation poses a high risk of falsification. Instead, prioritize secure digital tracking mechanisms, physical on-part stamps, or a combination of both.

Collaborating with suppliers proficient in etching or stamping permanent marks onto parts eliminates uncertainties regarding authenticity. Techniques like dot-peen marking offer indelible proof of origin without extending lead times. On average, dot-peen marking machines can imprint four to eight characters per second, ensuring efficient identification.

parts traceability iot
Image: 8machine

Embracing IoT Solutions

Implementing Internet of Things (IoT) trackers within supply chains is crucial. These devices offer wireless, real-time updates on location while monitoring crucial factors like product conditions and storage temperatures. Their primary advantage lies in the ability to precisely track shipments’ whereabouts at any given time.

While IoT tracking incurs higher costs compared to simpler alternatives, the additional trust and potential savings garnered from compliance assurance justify the investment for manufacturers and their clientele. However, it’s crucial to note that these devices are susceptible to cyber threats, as evidenced by soaring IoT attack rates. Prioritize cybersecurity by changing default passwords on all IoT devices, encrypting their data traffic, and regularly updating their firmware.

parts traceability
Blockchain

Blockchain Tracking

Blockchain technology presents a valuable asset for ensuring compliance in aerospace machining. Operating as a distributed ledger across a network of devices, a blockchain consists of digital records known as “blocks,” visible to authorized users but impervious to alteration.

Blockchain is another helpful technology for aerospace machining compliance. A blockchain is a ledger of digital records distributed over a wide network of devices. Most importantly, these records — called “blocks” — are visible to any authorized user but impossible to change.

Blockchain tracking’s inherent transparency is a potent tool for enhancing trust within supply chains. Industries spanning the medical, automotive, and food sectors have already begun experimenting with blockchain technology to shore up the reliability of their supply networks. It’s high time for the aerospace industry to embrace this innovative approach and adapt it to its supply chain for improved trust and reliability.

Regularly Assess Supply Chains and Compliance Strategies

Aircraft manufacturers must consistently reassess their supply chains and compliance strategies, considering the rapid evolution within the industry. With 81% of manufacturers incorporating new suppliers for various components, regulatory approaches must remain adaptable.

Conduct thorough reviews of suppliers and third-party entities annually to ensure their adherence to relevant regulations and company-specific protocols. Additionally, perform comprehensive risk analyses to identify any potential gaps within your compliance strategy that require immediate attention.

Quality control

Compliance is Crucial

Ensuring compliance in Aerospace machining is about more than avoiding legal costs; it’s crucial for ensuring public safety. Taking it seriously is imperative.

Completing compliance doesn’t conclude with internal processes alone. Assessing your suppliers’ processes, particularly regarding parts traceability, is equally vital. Understanding this and following these steps ensures the confident and compliant delivery of aerospace parts, prioritizing safety.

About AMFG

 

AMFG is a leading provider of MES software for manufacturing. Our software solutions empower manufacturers, allowing them to manage their workflows and achieve streamlined, automated processes.

With over 500 successful implementations in 35 countries and across a range of industries, we specialize in enabling companies to successfully integrate our software for AM and CNC production, into their wider manufacturing processes and scale their operations.

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