Spirit AeroSystems Prepared To Fill Gaps In Downstream Supply Chain

Spirit Aerosystems
Credit: Kristoffer Tripplaar/Alamy Stock Photo

LE BOURGET—Spirit AeroSystems is leaving some capacity in its fabrication capabilities so it can handle inevitable supply-chain issues by doing work itself, Chief Procurement Officer Alan Young told ShowNews ahead of the Paris Air Show.

Like many large suppliers, Spirit reduced staff and output in response to the 2020 global aviation downturn. With supply chain issues becoming acute as demand for aircraft returned, the company decided to ensure it has some internal capability ready to deploy if needed.

"We're going to hold back, in pockets, some contingent capacity," Young said. "Some suppliers will fail, and we're prudent about that. So we've kept open capacity to be able to supplement any prospective failures."

Such moves are made strategically, with an eye on keeping the supply chain flowing, rather than expanding Spirit's work-scope.

"It's not like, 'Hey, you're not delivering so we're taking your work away,'" Young said. "It's, 'You're not delivering—okay, let us step in and build this proportion of the work that allows you to recover.'"

Make-or-buy decisions are made by a team that Young leads and involve extensive analysis.

"[In] some of the machining areas, we're incredibly efficient and are the most competitive in the world. There's some where we're not, so we try to look for suppliers to do that [work]," Young said. "What I always tell the team is, 'Be good at what you're good at.' There are plenty of people out there that we can move work to who can be competitive and capable."

The company makes more than 32,000 parts. It has what it calls "blue streak" capability, meaning it can jump in and make parts when suppliers run into issues. While useful, blue streak production is expensive, so the company works to minimize it.

Not surprisingly, the company's focus is more advanced, high-value manufacturing processes.

"We've made some massive investments over the last few years—five-axis machining and extrusion milling and drilling," Young said. "Some of the key elements that go together in putting the skeleton of an airplane together—the skin, the frames, the stringers. We're very, very focused on that."

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.