Reducing risk and driving quality in the aerospace supply chain

Azure Gov Team

With one of the most complex and distributed supply chains in the world, aerospace and defense manufacturers need to demonstrate compliance with numerous regulations including AS9100, ITAR, EAR, and FedRAMP. Inside their supply chain, this requires compiling data on each manufactured component from an enormous number of subcontractors and suppliers of those subcontractors.

For example, the parts required for an aircraft fuselage assembled by a subcontractor may come from 480 different suppliers, along with 2000 additional suppliers of those suppliers. The aircraft manufacturer aims to identify any issues with individual parts at the time of production, so any defects can be corrected before they make it into the supply chain.

With large defense contracts at stake, the manufacturer also needs to know if a given supplier can produce the requisite quantity of parts when a large contract is awarded, while maintaining the same level of quality.

These are precisely the problems Mike Dunlop, President of Net-Inspect, has been tackling for almost 20 years. Today, with the help of Azure Government, the company has become a global leader in supply chain software, helping the aerospace industry and other manufacturers reduce risk, drive quality, and demonstrate compliance.

“Net-Inspect started as a state-of-the-art quality system for an aerospace company, the first solution of its kind that wasn’t paper,” explains Dunlop. “It was built as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product in three locations, connected on a single set of remote servers. People visited our factory and wanted to use the same solution, so we ended up spinning it off as a separate software company.”

“When we moved to Azure Government, we gained massive advantage in terms of ramping up and down, ensuring our services are delivered with world-class security and reliability, and storing data in accordance with the strictest compliance requirements of the US government.”

“At one major jet engine manufacturer they are collecting data on 14,000 critical features during the manufacturing process from a number of different suppliers. If the manufacturing process exhibits too much variability, the suppliers are required to submit an approved corrective action before continuing to ship the components.”

With Azure Government as a foundation, Net-Inspect has been able to tailor their requirements to exactly what they need at a given point in time. Dunlop relates, “In my 51 years of working in IT, this is the first time I’ve been able to operate without any constraints in both storage and computing capability.”

This lack of constraints provides a significant step towards full virtualization. Net-Inspect solutions provide the largest Aerospace manufacturers with visibility into their supply chain up to seven layers deep, establishing a ‘digital thread’ that connects all parts into a unified view. This starts with taking the original design drawings and hyperlinking supply chain data to each part, so you can put in any part number and gain complete visibility into the manufacturing process.

“In aerospace, this is called configuration control,” says Dunlop, “with Azure Government, we’re starting to spread out our configuration control footprint to the manufacturing location of those components, monitoring directly on the shop floor as that part is made.”

In moving to Azure Government, Net-Inspect planned for 6 months to ensure everyone knew what needed to happen. They made their transition of 7200 customers and approximately 72,500 end users, from New Zealand to India to Europe to North America, in just one hour. ‘We’re a small company but we’re a proxy for the aerospace industry,” says Dunlop. “If something got disrupted during our migration, it might have stopped or slowed down our customers’ manufacturing capabilities.”

Dunlop ensured his team became very self-sufficient in terms of in-house Azure knowledge, but he also credits Microsoft for their support in making the transition to Azure Government so seamless.

In our conversation, Dunlop expressed the desire to encourage others who might be timid about moving to the cloud. “We did it, and I’d encourage small businesses who aspire to make an impact within their industry to talk to Microsoft about what’s possible. We worked with some great people during our planning and migration process, and the experience far exceeded our expectations.”


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