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INSIGHT FROM SPIRIT AEROSYSTEMS: Destinations vary, but journeys share common origin

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By Krisstie Kondrotis, Spirit Senior VP of Defense & Business Development

Throughout its nearly 90-year history, Spirit AeroSystems, the world’s largest tier-one aerostructures manufacturer, has supported dozens of aircraft platforms. Whether for commercial or defense purposes, each aircraft travels its own path and serves its own mission, but they all have one thing in common: a spirit of innovation and efficiency.

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From 737s to specialized military aircraft, Spirit delivers expertise that drives industry innovation. A key to the company’s success is an ongoing focus on enhancing manufacturability. It’s good to be able to build something, but Spirit’s ultimate goal is to build it quickly and repeatedly while still delivering the highest levels of quality.

A manufacturability mindset

Spirit possesses deep expertise in both metallics and composites, which contributes to the company’s success in efficient manufacturing. The company’s experience working with a wide range of material types and its ability to balance the application of those material types when designing the structure result in tremendous efficiency and ultimately cost savings.

With a perspective unique in the industry, Spirit designs with manufacturability in mind. Spirit Exact® is a proprietary process that helps the company maintain a high level of dimensional management, thereby reducing its assembly footprint and tooling required. The methodology’s lean manufacturing techniques enable Spirit to use modular systems to make the process more dynamic, ensuring both product quality and production flexibility, which are particularly important as demand fluctuates for various aircraft platforms.

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Timing is everything in manufacturing, and Spirit understands the true benefit of advanced planning ahead of the manufacturing processes. Instead of considering potential issues when an aircraft is already in production, Spirit leverages its design-build expertise to evaluate producibility much earlier – in the design phase. Before putting people, tools and materials into place, Spirit strategically evaluates how to best achieve manufacturing and mission goals. By taking these critical steps in the design phase, Spirit ensures high quality and productivity, benefits that resonate with both Spirit and its customers.

The automation process demonstrates the clear benefits of Spirit’s approach to manufacturing. While customers might intuitively believe that automation is necessary in order to achieve the highest levels of productivity, particularly with composites, Spirit has proven that this isn’t always the case. The company applies its design experience and in-depth understanding of the properties of the materials to determine whether, when and how automation will be most efficient – or even necessary. By not implementing automation for automation’s sake, Spirit can reduce production costs, again underscoring the company’s goals of providing high-quality products and overall better value.

Collaborating for better outcomes

Another key factor in the design phase that impacts manufacturability is Spirit’s active engagement and communication with its customers. Oftentimes customers have a clear, singular vision in mind; but in working with Spirit, they can leverage the company’s design expertise, thereby realizing that new and different solutions may suit their needs even better. From manufacturing processes, such as additive manufacturing (or 3-D printing) to different types of supporting materials and tooling, Spirit provides customers a great advantage by enabling them to be involved throughout the design phase. Alternatively, Spirit can be brought in at any point during the production process to provide evaluation and expertise. In these cases, Spirit applies value stream mapping to determine how best to streamline existing manufacturing processes.

Spirit’s flexible and modular manufacturing systems for managing work flow and customer support are the foundation of the company’s model for success. By combining formal processes with flexibility, Spirit jumps into action quickly, providing customers opportunities to rapidly prototype new products, which can mean bringing new aircraft into production earlier.

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A good example of the success of Spirit’s rapid prototyping capabilities is the Bell V-280. Bell contracted Spirit to collaborate on the design and production of a fuselage for the V-280. With its streamlined manufacturing process, Spirit delivered the working prototype in 22 months, giving the customer a look at the new aircraft in a fraction of the typical time.

For nine decades, Spirit has been engineering aircraft and revolutionizing aircraft manufacturing. With a focus on continually innovating manufacturability, Spirit delivers tremendous value throughout the design-build process, ensuring that aircraft of all kinds will continue to reach their final destinations around the globe safely, quickly and efficiently.

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