During the last few years, the space market is rapidly evolving and reacting to the higher number of requests from commercial and institutional operators and satellite services users. The navigation, communication and data exchanges demands are increasing. The data collected by satellites is used to develop advanced services in several fields while the growth of satellite constellations guarantees global coverage, supporting citizens and governments.
In addition, 50 years after the Moon landing mission, the interest in space exploration is growing significantly. As a demonstration, there is an intention to build the Moon and the Mars Stations, as the next space frontiers.
In other words, space is becoming an important part of our lives, evolving from a niche market to a global market, accessible to several entities.
The space industry is reacting fast to market changes, developing new digital and flexible products, with reduced “time to market” in order to be agile and satisfy the new services and market needs.
At the same time, the industrial and technology transformations are driving us to 4.0 Era, with the digitalization of products, services and processes.
The Space Industry, following the scenario, mentioned above, needs to move from industrial environment “High Mix - Low Volume” to “High Mix - Medium Volume” Production, in order to produce more, with less Lead Time and to guarantee the right Quality level.
The industry needs to be focused on two main points before starting its production transformation:
1) What is the right Quality?
2) How to be more agile, reducing Lead Time? 1) The right Quality is the Quality that the Customer is willing to pay for; Quality is pre-requisite to compete in the space market and the industry should apply rigorous Quality control to gain competitive advantages. The New Space Production will not accept a decline of Quality or of a quality standard that does not guarantee the right mission service level. Nowadays, the discussion is about defining right standards, for example, moving from space quality standards to a more commercial quality standard of production. The volume of production in the space market is still low compared to other industries, which is the reason why applying mass production quality standard to an industry which usually has a custom medium-low volume of production, is quite complex. The only way to produce more, maintaining the right Quality, is to increase the Manufacturing Processes control, increase Stability, applying more automated processes controlled by new technologies and the Big Data analysis.
"Space is becoming an important part of our lives, evolving from a niche market to a global market, accessible to several entities"
2) In order to reach an agile, low Lead Time production, it is mandatory to guarantee a higher level of lean organisation, with planning and cycle time stability. To optimise the cycle time, the industrial processes must be analysed and optimised with a “Value Stream Mapping”, then the improved processes can be simulated performing a dynamic simulation and further optimisation in terms of the flow of materials, usage of human resources and machines. Finally, a digital twin model of the factory used to simulate new production scenarios in an agile industrial environment can be created.
The use of ERP and MES supports the digitalisation of work orders, instruction and traceability; human errors will be reduced on execution; the application of MPS in production will provide stability on planning, while the set-up time reduction and standardisation will be achieved with an agile set-up changeover.
The New Space Production cannot be a simple reproduction of the mass-production approach. We should take into consideration the different production volume and qualification of processes, due to the huge space condition and the launch condition of satellites.
In Thales Alenia Space we have successfully applied this model, and our transformation agenda includes process re-engineering, digital continuity with the implementation of MES/ERP, real-time collaboration, strategic Suppliers digital connection, and collaborative robotics and automation.
We are on currently working on the generation of digital twins of products and processes and new manufacturing technologies as Additive Manufacturing. Furthermore, Thales Alenia Space is implementing the Industrial IoT, and collecting in a “data lake” all the shop-floor parameters and information coming from machines, from MES/ERP and sensors installed.
These big data can be analysed with data analytics and data mining tools in order to prevent and detect defects correcting processes. Cloud and edge computing are the next important steps for ICT infrastructure and architecture.
In this context, collaboration and integration of core business and ICT competences become strategical, and more relevant, compared to the past years. Data bandwidth, cybersecurity and continuity of services are ever more embedded in the industrial processes.
The continuous improvement and competences enhancement is in the centre of this transformation; the claim ” we’ve done things always in this way” must be re-discussed to find the right way to produce, taking into account the Quality and the Agility of production.
“The make or buy” policy must take into account the concepts mentioned above, in order to decide what is mandatory to produce in-house, controlling strategic technology and quality, and what can be bought.
To conclude, a change in the production field is necessary; the new manufacturing technologies will help to improve manufacturing processes, guarantying the essential space level quality.