Building the world's largest passenger aircraft is a daunting enough task, but it was made even more difficult for Airbus because of the airplane maker's global manufacturing operations.
The wings were assembled in England, the fuselage in Germany, and the cockpit in Spain. Communicating with the teams involved in making the new A380 was the main concern from the start of the massive project.
Airbus decided to deploy SAP Advanced Planning & Optimization, a key component of mySAP supply chain management software, according to Jean-Pierre Albaret, vice president of information management at Airbus. Since the application went online in June, Albaret said, it has enhanced collaboration between multiple production sites, improved productivity on the shop floor and easily integrated front- and back-end operations.
Airbus, a company jointly owned by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company and BAE Systems Inc., has headquarters in France but divisions in Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as France. Airbus has a long-standing relationship with SAP, having implemented SAP R/3 in 1991 at each of its production sites.
Martin Elsner, SAP's field service director for aerospace and defense, said that the reason the Advanced Planning & Optimization (APO) implementation was so quick and simple was that Airbus had been a longtime SAP customer.
"We've had a very sound knowledge of their processes and the way they do their business," he said. "We're still leaving the execution systems as they are, but on a planning level, this was obviously a big deal."
The newly installed APO software extracts information out of Airbus' national system and allows a consolidated view of the assembly line at each of the company's production plants through a single supply chain window. The software went online with only two minor glitches that were quickly corrected, he said.
The first phase of the Airbus project was completed in early June 2003. Having greater control over the supply chain should help ease the pressure of producing a finished aircraft sometime in 2005, Elsner said.
Companies like Airbus need software to allow them to build upon what they already have, said Navi Radjou, principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.
"Preventing disruptions by achieving flexibility in the supply chain with a vendor that understands the specific business nuances may be the best choice," he said.
"Clearly, companies are looking to have more control over their supply chain to gain more efficiency."
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