May 28, 2021

Airbus tells suppliers to ramp up for post-COVID recovery

Supplychain
Airbus
Manufacturing
Supplychainriskmanagement
2 min
European aerospace giant Airbus warns supply chain to ramp up capacity for swift return to pre-pandemic manufacturing levels

The world’s largest planemaker is signalling a return to pre-pandemic aircraft production and is calling on suppliers to scale up their operations to handle the incoming demand. 

Airbus told suppliers this week to begin accelerating investment in production capacity and hire more staff. The sector has been largely stagnant for more than a year, with commercial flights grounded for months at a time throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. But the European aerospace giant expects demand will return to traditional levels between 2023 and 2025, and is issuing an advanced warning to ensure supply chains are ready to meet the spike in demand. 

Aviation sector recovery 

“The aviation sector is beginning to recover from the COVID-19 crisis,” said Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury. He says his message to suppliers is to prepare and scale-up for a period of intensive production “when market conditions call for it.” 

By outlining its own forecasts and planning for until 2025, it seems likely Airbus wants to avoid the issues faced by other sectors, such as the automotive and consumer electronics industries, both bitten by a global scarcity of semi-conductor chips and chaotic supply chains. 

Faury also revealed that Airbus is investing in modernisation of its own production capabilities, primarily those associated with its A320 Family passenger airliners, its tentpole model. In Q4, 2021 Airbus produced approximately 45 of these aircraft per month, and tells suppliers it expects that number to increase by almost 40% by the second quarter of 2023, rising to 190 in total for the three-month period. 

Airbus further outlined its expectations for other models:

  • A220 Family: Currently at around rate five aircraft per month from Mirabel and Mobile, the rate is confirmed to rise to around six in early 2022. That number is forecast to rise to a monthly production rate of 14 by mid-decade.
  • A350 Family: Currently at an average production rate of five per month, this is expected to  increase to six by autumn 2022. 
  • A330 Family: Production remains at an average monthly production rate of two per month.

 

The aerospace industry was one of the worst affected by COVID-19, as nations closed their borders and ordered citizens to remain indoors. The number of aircraft delivered in 2020 plummeted by 42% compared with the year before, and was 55.3% behind 2018, a record year for the sector. Widebody aircraft for long-haul flights fared even worse, with production orders all but wiped out, down 81%. 

 

Image: A321neo MSN6673 take off / Airbus

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Jun 9, 2021

Upgrading RFID and Automated Track and Trace Solutions

Supplychain
Logistics
RFID
DigitalSupplyChain
Elise Leise
5 min
Why do decades-old tech like RFID remain relevant despite digital disruption - and which recent innovations can accelerate traceability and SCM?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, global supply chains faced the challenge of rapidly adjusting their business priorities to new customer preferences. Local supplier backlogs, winter storms, and the Suez Canal backup in March underscored the need for efficiency and visibility across the supply chain. 

According to Christof Backhaus, Digital Lead Product Supply and Smart Label Project Lead at Bayer, companies must now place critical importance on tracking and tracing their products. “All large enterprises in the world dealing with finished goods,” he said, “seek functional and technical solutions to real-time channel inventory.” 

Indeed, RFID’s real-time tracking data allows executives to make quick, well-informed decisions in moments of supply chain crisis - and rather than unfolding across days or weeks, it only takes a matter of minutes. 

Why does RFID remain relevant despite digital disruption? 

 

Essentially, RFID uses radio frequency waves to transfer data wirelessly between a scanner and a tag. In contrast to barcode technology, which requires a stationary scanner, RFID tags can be pinged from anywhere in the world, allowing companies to track real-time movement through the supply chain. RFID tags can also scan unique SKU numbers and distinguish between varying product sizes, colours, and styles: a critical feature for increasingly personalised end-user products. 

 

Though the first patent for RFID tags appeared in 1973, higher accuracy rates, lower costs, and advances in sensor and data technology have made it newly accessible to a wide range of companies. Today, the technology is used in logistics networks, manufacturing and delivery networks in the pharmaceutical industry, and any business where efficiently tracking and monitoring product location is critical: raw materials, consumer products, cars, electronics, retail, and agriculture. 

What are the key benefits? 

 

Overall, automated track and trace solutions keep labour costs low, optimise operating costs, mitigate security risks, use capital effectively, and assist companies in adhering to regulatory requirements. 
 

Below are three in-depth dives into how RFID benefits major industries: 

 

  • Pharmaceuticals: RFID tags help manufacturers safeguard sensitive products such as vaccines, tracking where they are and when they will arrive in real-time. Sensors closely monitor temperatures to ensure regulatory compliance. If anyone tampers with a shipment, the sensors alert the company. 
  • Logistics: RFID identifies process gaps and frequent anomalies by monitoring a product’s lifecycle from shipment to delivery. This data helps decision-makers predict the most efficient routes and therefore optimise their distribution schedules. 
  • Retail: Sensors help guard shipments against theft and provide critical intelligence when shipments go missing. Before adopting RFID technology in 2203, UK retailer Marks and Spencer relied on barcodes to scan inventory. When they made the switch, their productivity increased from a maximum of 400-600 items scanned per hour to up to 15,000 items scanned per hour. Building on their initial success, the retailer expanded the use of the technology and is still using it today. 

Regardless of the industry, RFID promotes accuracy, immediacy, and efficiency. Companies reduce human error by automatically scanning products, keep track of inventory even in geographic locations with poor connectivity, and help streamline warehouse operations by identifying exact product locations. 

Which recent innovations have changed the game? 

 

With recent developments in cloud technology and IoT, a multitude of cloud-based alternatives have emerged to challenge traditional RFID technology. One of these cutting-edge solutions is Sony’s Smart Label - an intelligent shipping label that runs on AT&T’s global cellular network. 

As with any good innovation, Sony’s proprietary technology started with a customer need ready to be solved: the Bayer Crop Science Division lacked an international IoT solution that could track seed products from start to finish throughout its distribution channel. Millions of dollars of revenue stood at stake, so Bayer turned to Sony to develop a smart label that would set the organisation up to manage its supply chain with end-to-end visibility. 

Sony’s printable and disposable adhesive label allows companies to track the condition and location of their products worldwide and act upon the vast amounts of data it collects. The process is simple: the label activates when attached to the package, connects to AT&T’s secure LTE-M network, and sends data to the Smart Label Cloud in real time. 

In sharp contrast to other smart label solutions that place trust in a patchwork combination of Wi-Fi, radio-frequency identification, and other limited coverage connections, the Sony Smart Label connects solely through a secure and universally-available cellular network. “Working with Sony,” says Robert Boyanovsky, the vice president of Mobility, IoT and 5G at AT&T, “we provide full visibility of every item shipped.” 

Most importantly for companies on the edge, the Smart Label integrates with existing enterprise systems to achieve full visibility, thus adding value without disrupting supply chain process flow. 

Why is this important now? 

 

Companies that previously delayed introducing RFID and other automated track-and-trace technologies can capitalise on recent developments that lower costs, improve accuracy, and supercharge traceability. 

Clearly the technology has value in today’s uncertain global marketplace, and can help decrease the costs of tracking goods. To quote Christof Backhaus, the Project Lead at Bayer, “the Smart Label indicates how much product is in the market, from the packaging line to the end customer.” Companies no longer have to spend a small fortune to take advantage of recent IoT developments. “Due to the technical composition [of the label],” Backhaus explains, “we don’t require additional infrastructure, manual scanning, or other expensive tools.” 

Over the decades since RFID was first introduced, support for introducing it to company supply chains has also improved. AT&T’s IoT Professional Services Organisation, for example, supports companies through the end-to-end design and integration process--from installation to deployment and project management. 

Companies that invest in traceable and visible supply chain solutions stand the best chance of survival, adjusting in real-time to natural disasters, shipping backups, and slowed-down supplier turnarounds as a result of the global pandemic. “Smart Label promises to help businesses like Bayer realise the full potential of the IoT,” says AT&T’s Boyanovsky. “[We can] deliver improvements in revenue and cost savings and make supply chains more efficient.” 

Certainly, company executives will be hard-pressed to ignore recent innovations. In an age of uncertainty, RFID and its challengers herald a welcome sense of supply chain security. The next step? “Our sales team,” Boyanovsky adds, “is prepared to engage with prospective customers now.” 

 

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