Roei Ganzarski is CEO of Alitheon, whose FeaturePrint® optical AI helps companies avoid counterfeits & gray markets, and trace products.
Inventory management and control are important in any industry no matter what the item is—be it nuts and bolts, luxury watches, gold bars or aircraft parts. Knowing what you have and where you have it is a critical aspect of operations. In aerospace and defense, this is especially important when it comes to mission assurance. Ensuring smooth, safe and effective operations is key. Cost efficiency is, of course, an element that is important as well and is directly impacted by the operation at hand.
One way to significantly enhance inventory management and control is item serialization and traceability. In this article, I will explore the importance of item serialization and traceability, focusing on their impact on safety, operational preparedness and cost. Additionally, I will provide suggestions on how A&D companies can enhance and improve their serialization and traceability practices.
In terms of quality control, serialization and traceability should provide irrefutable provenance—vital information about the origin, manufacturing details and history of each item. This information facilitates control checks, ensuring that only the correct, authorized and compliant components are used. Detecting counterfeit, substandard or simply the wrong parts becomes easier, minimizing the risk of equipment failure and safety hazards.
The aviation industry at large, and A&D specifically, has experienced accidents because of poor inventory management and lack of specific part identification due to the use of counterfeit, noncompliant or simply incorrect parts. For example, just last year, the United States Air Force grounded more than 100 planes because their mechanics were likely scratching the propellers when inscribing serial numbers on them during inspections. This exemplifies the importance and the need for a simple serialization capability for both stored inventory as well as operational parts in order to ensure safety and continued operational readiness.
Furthermore, in the event of a safety issue or product recall, item serialization and traceability can enable swift identification of affected components. By narrowing down the scope of the recall, organizations can focus on ensuring the required recalls are successful, preventing potential accidents and minimizing costs associated with recall operations.
Serialization and traceability can also aid in tracking the maintenance history of individual parts and assemblies while planning for their future. This assists maintenance organizations in efficiently scheduling preventive maintenance, identifying potential issues and ensuring operational readiness. It also helps in planning the repairs and replacements needed, reducing downtime and associated costs.
For example, it was recently reported that auditors found that the Department of Defense, and its supplier, Lockheed Martin, lost more than one million F-35 spare parts over the last five years. Scalable and persistent serialization technologies and methods may have helped avoid such an expensive and risky outcome.
With serialization and traceability, organizations can manage complex and multi-component inventory stocks and stores more effectively and efficiently. Tracking configurations in real-time allows for more accurate records, updates and modifications, helping to ensure compliance with regulatory and operational standards. This can enhance operational efficiency and readiness, reduces errors and support effective maintenance and repairs.
When it comes to cost, inventory accuracy—thanks to correct serialization and traceability—can allow for better demand forecasting. And it minimizes overstocking or stockouts. Accurately tracking components, parts and assemblies throughout their lifecycle also enables organizations to identify underutilized assets or redundancies in their operations. This, in turn, can help leaders make informed decisions about resource allocation, enable cost savings and maximize asset utilization.
Enhancing Serialization And Traceability Practices
Here are five suggestions for A&D organizations and companies looking to improve item serialization and traceability.
1. Standardize data formats.
Establish standards for serialization and traceability data formats. Industry-wide would be optimal to ensure interoperability and seamless data exchange between different stakeholders, but even inter-organization standards could provide significant value.
2. Collaborate with suppliers throughout the supply chain.
Encourage and, if possible, mandate suppliers and their suppliers to adopt serialization and traceability practices and solutions, promoting transparency and traceability across the entire value chain. Transparent, unique and persistent solutions applied throughout the value chain are key.
3. Provide training and education.
Train employees involved in inventory management and control to ensure they understand the importance of serialization and traceability and are proficient in utilizing the tools, technologies and methodologies.
4. Aim for continuous improvement.
Regularly review and assess serialization and traceability tools and processes to identify areas for improvement. Embrace feedback from stakeholders and leverage operational data to enable and enact continuous enhancement of your practices.
5. Utilize advanced technologies.
Consider embracing advanced technologies such as blockchain, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence to simplify and enhance data visibility, accuracy and security throughout your operations.
Serialization and traceability are crucial elements of inventory management and control in any industry but are vital to human lives in the aerospace and defense sector. Accurate, detailed, simple to acquire and irrefutable information about individual components, parts and assemblies can significantly impact efficiency, safety, operational preparedness and cost. Implementing improvements can help A&D companies and organizations to maintain their competitive edge and uphold the highest standards of safety, reliability and operational excellence.
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