First for software, agile is a boon to manufacturing

The company focused on solving the most challenging problems in the early stages of sprint design as a team and then moved to smaller groups for detailed design efforts. They used fast feedback circuits in simulation and testing to improve the design before starting production.

This focus on agile development and production helped Zipline move its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from design to commercialized and scaled operations in Ghana and Rwanda in less than 18 months, a schedule that included six months of hardcore development, another six months prototype testing and the last six months for project validation and engineering testing.

“Overall, the idea of ​​focusing resources on a specific sprint issue is something we take from the software world back to the hardware world,” said Devin Williams, lead engineer at Zipline’s UAV production platform. “One thing we do really well is find the least viable product and then go prove it on the spot.”

Using a flexible process allows Zipline to focus on making product changes that quickly meet customer needs while maintaining high reliability. The San Francisco Bay Area company already has distribution centers in North Carolina and Arkansas, and another is underway in Salt Lake City and will soon launch in Japan as well as new markets in Africa.

Zipline is not alone. From startups to manufacturers with a decade of history, companies are turning to flexible design, development and production to create innovative products at lower cost. Aircraft maker Bye Aerospace has cut costs by more than half in developing electric aircraft and accelerating the pace of its prototypes. And Boeing is using flexible processes to win the two-pilot TX training aircraft project.

In general, the application of flexible methodologies should be a priority for every manufacturer. Aerospace and defense companies, whose complex projects typically follow long time horizons of waterfall development, need flexible design and development to power the industry in the age of urban air mobility and the future of space exploration.

The evolution of traditional product design

While flexible manufacturing originated with the Kanban method of producing cars just in time, developed in the 1940s at Toyota, the modern flexible development framework was perfected in the late 1990s by programmers looking for better ways. for software production. Instead of creating a waterfall development pipeline that includes specific stages, such as design and testing, flexible development focuses on creating a working product, a minimally viable product, as early in the process as possible, and then iterating over the technology. In 2000, a group of 17 developers drafted the Agile Manifesto, focusing on working software, individuals and interactions and collaboration with customers.

Over the last decade, flexible software development has focused on DevOps – “development and operations” – which creates interdisciplinary teams and a culture for application development. In the same way, design companies and product manufacturers have taken the lessons from agile and reintegrated them into the production life cycle. As a result, production now consists of small teams that replicate products, return real-world lessons back to the supply chain, and use software tools to accelerate collaboration.

In the aerospace and defense industry, well known for the complexity of its products and systems, agile brings benefits. Working on the development of the two-seater TX jet simulator, Boeing is committed to developing flexible design and manufacturing processes, which led to half the cost of the US Air Force program, 75% increase in the quality of the original prototype, half the development time. software and 80% reduction in assembly time.

“We have taken a flexible mindset and block plan approach to hardware and software integration,” said Paul Nivald, Boeing TX’s program manager. “This led us to run software every eight weeks and test it at the system level to confirm our requirements. By doing so, in such a disciplined way – on frequency – it has allowed us to reduce our software efforts by 50%. ”

In the end, TX went from design to construction of “production and representative aircraft” in three years. This is a major departure from the initial development of traditional aircraft programs that use waterfall development in the early stages of design and development and may require a decade of development.

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This content was created by Insights, the personalized content of the MIT Technology Review. Not written by the MIT Technology Review.

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