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What a Navy SEAL Can Teach You about Manufacturing Excellence

United States Navy SEAL Rorke Denver had the entire audience up on its feet for some light calisthenics.

“I want you to stretch your arms up over head,” he instructed the crowd. “Point them right up to the ceiling.”/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/42_76027574cap_915756.jpg

Commander Denver was delivering the opening keynote at the 2016 SAP Aerospace & Defense Innovation Days event in Dallas, Texas. Among those reaching for the sky were representatives from many of the top companies in the A&D industry.

Denver, who has directed all phases of basic and advanced SEAL training, was about to make an important point about the limits of performance.

“Now give me one more inch,” he said.

As the SEAL Commander expected, every hand went up just a little bit higher.

“There’s always room for improvement.”

Building the World’s Most Advanced Fighter Jet

For the next two days, the veracity of Denver’s observation was borne out by virtually every presenter at the event. Leaders from across the industry swapped ideas and shared the innovative solutions they use to meet their most complex manufacturing challenges.

Much of the talk centered around how digital technologies are helping companies continually improve operations – from managing multi-billion dollar programs to sourcing individual parts.

Lockheed Martin Corporation’s Eric R. Branyan described what can only be called a mega-project.

Branyan is vice president of the company’s F-35 Lightening II aircraft production business unit. The F-35 is the world’s most advanced multi-role fighter jet. It combines the latest stealth design, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations, and advanced sustainment.

The scope of the ongoing F-35 production is mind-blowing.

Branyan explained that a single F-35 is the synthesis of more than 300,000 individual parts. “Eight million lines of code fly on this airplane,” he added. “And it’s supported by another 10 million on the ground for maintenance and training.”

In total, the F-35 represents a massive and global supply chain requiring incredible coordination. There are over 1,450 domestic suppliers and more in 11 other countries. The lead times on some parts are measured in years.

Making significant improvements in this environment might seem especially difficult. But as Branyan told the crowd, the program’s goals for the next few years include increasing production rates three-fold while reducing costs 30%.

He considers continual refinements to the project’s processes, automated tools, and production methods critical to achieving these objectives. And as Branyan noted, “We will also continue to look at how our IT investments and our enterprise systems can integrate together to help meet the challenge.”

Manufacturing at Sea

In other presentations, A&D experts discussed larger trends within the industry. One in particular talked about the revolution in managing manufacturing and parts.

“Today there is $1.8 trillion worth of inventory sitting on shelves in the United States alone,” said Alan Amling, vice president of marketing at UPS Global Logistics & Distribution.

But what if we could store much of that inventory virtually and create a spare part only if and when it is actually needed?

Amling and co-presenter Steven Kim of SAP, talked about how 3D printing is transforming the extended supply chain with advantages such as no minimum quantities, no upfront tooling costs, faster production, and cost-effective customizations. This technology is revolutionizing the industry and has challenged UPS to build out a new business model.

“The 3D market is expected to triple over the next three years,” noted Amling. “If you can imagine that just 5% of manufacturing moves to 3D printing, that would represent $640 billion.”

Additive manufacturing techniques are already part of the aerospace and defense industry. Kim described how a 3D printer is now aboard the United States Navy’s USS Essex. Sailors have used the printer to create spare parts needed for emergency repairs and to build custom-made drones while far out at sea.

The Best Get Better

These are just a couple highlights from this year’s event. Look for future blogs where I’ll take a deeper dive into some of the other topics that had attendees talking among themselves.

In the meantime, here’s another comment from Commander Denver to consider.

“How do you get better when you are already performing at a very high level?” Denver asked during his opening remarks. “As SEALs we are constantly adapting and updating our advanced systems and training to ensure we can meet our objectives out on the battlefield.”

It appears that the United States Navy SEALs and the companies of the aerospace and defense industry have something in common.

Even in elite organizations, you can always find ways to give that extra inch.

Please join me on Twitter at @JohnGWard3.

Did you miss the SAP Aerospace & Defense Innovation Days in Dallas? If so, come see our A&D experts at the upcoming SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference in Orlando this May 17-19. And click here to learn about SAP solutions and expertise for the aerospace and defense industry.

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