Strong growth in new plane orders, combined with complex maintenance activity, make supply chain specialists critical partners to aeronautic companies.
The aeronautic sector has undergone radical transformation over the past two decades. Not only have volumes of passengers and goods flown around the world increased, but the business models of both transporters and aircraft manufacturers have been entirely revised. As a result, groups that once owned and ran most companies involved in their operations have entirely divested to focus on core activities. As a result, they now rely on partners to provide most supplies and services – including supply chain specialists assuring on-time delivery on increasingly demanding schedules.
Exemplary of that shift have been the builders of planes, helicopters, satellites and rockets, who have honed their efforts on the assembly process while outsourcing all attendant activities. That rationalization includes reduction of supply storage space to absolute minimums, and demanding components be delivered to assembly lines virtually as they're needed.
"Perhaps two years ago delivery conditions required supplies arrive less than seven days before the target date, and no more than three after," says Cédric Sepulcre, Aerospace Sales Manager for Bolloré Logistics France. "Now conditions are less than five days before and zero after, and we'll soon be at zero-zero. Manufacturers no longer want to assume the cost of component storage, nor productivity losses due to delays."
To satisfy those stringent demands, dedicated networks of experts must be assembled to organize and orchestrate every step of delivery -- from suppliers' loading docks to the assembly lines where planes are built. Mr. Sepulcre says that involves becoming an active participant in the entire process alongside clients. It also necessitates providing full service guarantees from start to finish, including value-added services like packaging, customs clearance and other administrative processing.
"We've become an integrated part of both the manufacturer's assembly operation, and suppliers' production and delivery preparations," Mr. Sepulcre says. "For this to work correctly, we must know supply flows and requirements on each side of the chain, make sure those are evolving as expected -- and be capable of reacting fast when unexpected developments arise."
To direct – and when necessary, streamline – that traffic, Bolloré Logistics relies on a dedicated global aerospace network of 1,600 people in over 50 nations. That organization is overseen by group control towers in Dallas and Paris monitoring flows in real time, and intervening on a 24/7 basis if needed. That surveillance, combined with the group's integrated participation in client and supplier planning, permits Bolloré Logistics to assure optimized, on-time solutions at both ends.
Meanwhile, the change in client paradigm also obligates adaptation of freight forwarding installations. Manufacturers have vastly optimized spaces dedicated to core assembly activities, while slashing storage available for components from suppliers and industrial partners. As a result, supply chain specialists like Bolloré Logistics have established warehousing of their own beside assembly centers. That proximity permits local storage of components for delivery exactly when needed.
At the Toulouse aircraft final assembly site, for example, the components necessary to build at single plane converge on the Bolloré Logistics platform from over 100 suppliers worldwide. From there they can be taken immediately to technicians for use, or stocked for immediate delivery when required.
Alternatively, supplies can be removed from packaging and laid out in protective kitting containers, which facilitates both access and use by arranging parts in sequential order of their utilization in construction. In some cases, warehouse pre-assembly can be provided to assure that completed components are delivered to airplane technicians alongside the final assembly line.
"This organization allows us to, when necessary, literally hand the technician the required part at the minute it needs to go on the plane," Mr. Sepulcre says, noting the group has similar storage facilities near high-volume airports in Sydney, Singapore, London, Paris, Dubai, Los Angeles and New York for servicing and maintenance clients. "It allows us to be on-hand and ready with supplies right when they are needed."
Specialization in the sector also necessitates other exceptional service capacities. According to Mr. Sepulcre, those include coordinating multi-supplier orders, overseeing regulatory compliance, and providing extraordinary transport and handling for the out-sized and highly sensitive cargo often involved in air and spacecraft production and deliveries.
The ability to rely on solid and experienced freight forwarding partners is crucial for plane manufacturers, whose order books are expanding by 15-20% annually. In addition to the new component demand created by Airbus rolling out new generation A350s and Boeing introducing 787s, Mr. Sepulcre says the servicing and maintenance of older aircraft is similarly driving growth of suppliers by 10-15% per year.
"All of that must leave the supplier on time, and be waiting for the client when his hand reaches out for it – and they need to know every detail between those moments has been carefully dealt with," Mr. Sepulcre says. "That's our specialty."