Teams of engineers in France and Germany worked separately on the electrical design of the A380 jet. Each team worked on a digital blueprint, but failed to communicate changes on a timely basis. An equivalent of 312 miles of wiring snakes through the giant 555-seat airplane. Airbus had planned to produce 25 of the A380s this year, but will only produce—at most—nine because workers who were assembling sections found mismatched electrical connections.
The Airbus debacle points to the importance of seamless communication between design engineers. The tragedy at Airbus was that communications were poor between engineers within the same company. The power of modern supply chains is that companies can take advantage of engineering expertise at suppliers, who have better knowledge of the specific technologies and systems they supply. Increasingly, best-in-class companies also include their customers in some part of these discussions so that technology developments mesh with their next generation products.
Many companies, such as Boeing, are beefing up business processes, and adding software, that improve communications and create an electronic system for managing product specifications in a trend called product lifecycle management. One of the core aspects of PLM is product data management, or the creation of a centralized, electronic resting place for the technical information related to a specific product. The data storehouse can track a product through its existence, keeping track of warranty or recycling issues.
Implementation of a software tool alone wouldn’t have solved the problems at Airbus because the more intrinsic issue here was cultural. Airbus is owned by a complex mix of highly competitive French, German, British and Spanish interests. The company has co-chief executives: one French and one German.Companies have to solve their cultural problems before they can benefit from new technology. The most important single factor is to develop a mindset that best-in-class companies have seamless collaboration systems internally and with their most critical suppliers.
Interestingly, Airbus in fact does have a PLM system. It actually has a suite of legacy systems that do not communicate with each other.