With so many working styles, it can be difficult for organizations large or small to arrive at the most effective methodology for their product development. In the aircraft interiors industry alone, there are several manufacturers who all adopt different practices to provide airlines with a finished product.
For Unum Aircraft Seating, which launched its business class seat manufacturing business earlier this year, the company chose to implement Renaissance Engineering, a traditionally untapped manufacturing strategy.
In this article, Mark Hacker, Chief Technology Officer at Unum, discusses a Renaissance-inspired style of engineering development and how this technique evolved the company’s manufacturing process. Alongside this, Mark will explore upcoming innovations in the industry and what to expect in the years to come.
The seat manufacturing process and Renaissance Engineering
Engineering styles are closely related to organizational culture. Large organizations tend to have very hierarchical structures with clearly defined silos across all departments.
For these larger manufacturers, there are often a larger number of company-employed engineers working in a conveyor belt system throughout the design and manufacturing process. Engineers will be clearly segmented into different areas of specialization, ranging from concept creation to design testing to manufacturing engineering. Within this system, each engineer will work on their assigned part before passing it on to the next engineer to continue the next step. This process continues until the product is completed and shipped to its customer. This approach can be effective, but it’s also associated with a lack of agility, poor communication across silos, and resulting long delays.
For smaller manufacturers, a different approach may prove more nimble and efficient. Renaissance engineering is a concept inspired by the creative and technical minds of the Renaissance, where individuals were extremely innovative by being part artist, part scientist, part philosopher and part mathematician, adapting their skills in a variety areas to develop their technical skills. . For seating engineering, this technique is implemented by assigning responsible engineers throughout the lifecycle of a particular product module, overseeing the entire process rather than a narrow specialist area. This allows engineers to have full supervision from start to finish and have complete knowledge of the project, should they need to make changes to the component to create a successful design.
At Unum, this methodology has been woven into every aspect of the design and manufacturing process. This is beneficial both for product consistency and for developing the skills of engineers new to the industry.
The positive implications of Renaissance Engineering
Renaissance engineering is a unique perspective that has not been explored before, so the question is what the results are when implementing this technique in design and manufacturing strategy.
Overall, this technique is beneficial both for the product development aspect of the business and on a more personal level for the engineers involved in the process. By assigning a higher degree of responsibility to one person, it is their role to ensure that all technical faults are resolved, rather than passing the component (and associated issues) on to the next person. This mindset reinforces a level of consistency across the product, with no gaps in communication that would otherwise be present between each employee. External communication is also more targeted with suppliers, ensuring better alignment at all stages of manufacturing, from design to on-time delivery.
It’s no secret that the aviation industry suffers from an ongoing shortage of engineers. It is therefore important that engineers feel valued within the company and realize their full potential. By increasing their level of product responsibility, engineers will find an added sense of passion and enthusiasm for the product they are creating. This, in turn, means more time will be spent perfecting the seat and providing a better and more cohesive final design. By showing engineers that their work is valued and yielding positive results, their interest will be retained and they will be more likely to stay with the company for an extended period.
Potential Disadvantages of Renaissance Engineering
Like any technique, Renaissance Engineering also has its drawbacks. As engineers are given a higher level of product responsibility, they are also expected to have a wider range of technical skills and knowledge about the seat they design and manufacture.
However, it is important to recognize that no engineer can become a master of all trades, no matter how long they have been in the field. To manage the expectation of this increased accountability, manufacturers should consider implementing a mentorship system that helps individuals work across a variety of disciplines and projects. Some engineers may also find Renaissance Engineering a daunting prospect, especially if they are new to the role. With the right support system, these people can be integrated into the process, while rapidly developing their abilities on the job.
Arguably, Renaissance Engineering can be problematic in the event that an engineer is away from the company for an extended period of time. In this case, it can be difficult for alternate engineers to step in with limited knowledge of the design module the original engineer was working on. Therefore, for organizations adopting this technique, it is crucial that they have the appropriate internal infrastructure, such as a senior project manager who has the ability to continue the manufacturing process when certain engineers are unavailable.
At Unum, Renaissance Engineering has received incredibly positive feedback, especially from graduates who have rapidly progressed in their abilities and seen the results of their project firsthand.
The future of aircraft seat engineering
As with the rest of the aviation industry, the development of digitization will become an important part of the process of creating, manufacturing and delivering products. Product customization is becoming increasingly important for airlines to meet a variety of aircraft models and onboard passenger requirements and manufacturers must use technology to meet this demand. Particularly during the design process, technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality (VR) can allow designers to virtually create and test their visions before moving from design to construction. These systems are also useful for communicating exact desires to stakeholders by being able to present prototypes through VR headsets. Technological developments are indicative of exciting times for the industry, evolving opportunities to explore human creativity and potential.
The end goal of future innovations should be to produce a product that meets the needs of customers and users. In the aircraft seat industry, the final design must be comfortable, sturdy and have a maintainable basis for longevity.
Through the combination of technology and Renaissance Engineering, Unum has created a system that satisfies everyone involved throughout the manufacturing process, from customers to users to our engineers, while ensuring that our products are comfortable. , consistent and delivered on time.