When the A&D supply chain is humming, it’s a sight to see—parts and subassemblies pouring in from all over the world to build aircraft like the Boeing 737NG, a 45-ton airplane with 600,000 parts that need to be forecast, planned, scheduled, produced, tracked, and staged across the global chain.
Information visibility and data integrity are vital to operating the chain like an orchestral performance—especially as aircraft and engine makers strain to increase output to meet current delivery commitments and ready their chains for new product launches. A&D is exploring blockchain to help—a decentralized, electronic ledger that facilitates near-real-time visibility, authentication and security during the online collaboration between customers and suppliers around parts planning, work-in-process and logistics.
Blockchain provides a way to track transactions, goods and events via a common digital ledger, with mechanisms for consensus, verification and permissions. In a typical value chain, the parties record and maintain their own information. With blockchain, each transaction entry is linked via encryption, and the decentralized ledger is shared across the chain, reducing time spent chasing facts and figures. Accenture, in a report titled Blockchain in Aerospace and Defense, cites supply chain as a key use case, believing it can “improve the accuracy of multi-echelon track and trace and coordination between supply chain partners.” Accenture demonstrated blockchain at Farnborough for a single, shared view of the supply chain and unchangeable audit trail for partnering manufacturers, suppliers, and operators.
Another application in supply chain is distributed additive manufacturing, according to Rob Thompson, a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton who worked on a blockchain study for Airbus. “Sensitive design data could be sent to any 3D printer in any country that wants to build Airbus’ 3D-printed parts, as long as it guarantees the quality and security standards as verified by the embedded smart contract,” he said.
Moog is thinking along similar lines, working with ST Aerospace to 3D-print aircraft parts using Moog’s VeriPart solution—enabled by Microsoft Azure Blockchain—and ST Aerospace capabilities in additive manufacture. The firms recently demonstrated a blockchain-facilitated flow—ST Aerospace procured the digital design from Moog, made the part at its Singapore facility, and settled the transaction via a smart contract. Moog has also teamed with the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) to test 3D printing, validation and traceability in a secure, blockchain-aided ecosystem to create a “point of use, time of need smart digital supply chain,” said a Moog executive.
The A&D supply chain was already stressed before Boeing and Airbus booked new orders for more than 960 planes at the Farnborough Air Show; blockchain could be part of the technology and process improvement toolkit that helps their suppliers keep pace. “This elegant and paradigm-shifting technology has the potential to deliver profound benefits for the hundreds of suppliers typically involved in the manufacturing of a single aircraft,” said John Schmidt, managing director and global aerospace & defense lead at Accenture.