Sometime in late 2009, a sleek, black vessel will sail quietly from England's northwestern shore and silently slip under the North Atlantic waves to mark the beginning of a new era for the British Royal Navy. It will be the first of the newest Astute class attack submarines--the most advanced and capable class of submarines ever built for the Royal Navy.
Once deployed, Astute is designed not to require refueling throughout her full 25-year service life. It can patrol for 90 days while remaining undetected, thousands of miles from home and hundreds of meters underwater. In fact the Astute subs can easily circumnavigate the globe without surfacing. The length of a dive is limited only by the amount of food that can be carried and the endurance of the crew.
But until the Astute class submarines are deployed, their development and construction is entirely in the hands of BAE Systems, the U.K.'s largest aerospace and defense (A&D) contractor. BAE Systems Submarine Solutions is responsible for the design, build and initial in-service support of four 7,400-ton Astute class boats at its Barrow facility in Northwest England. Astute is crammed with some of the world's most sophisticated technologies, including an advanced nuclear reactor, sonar, optical mast, combat management and weapons systems.
"The workforce at Barrow continues to demonstrate that although the production of nuclear powered submarines requires a specialist subset of skills, in line with the British government's Defense Industrial Strategy, we have the ability to deliver the intellectual resource and technologies required," states Murray Easton, managing director of BAE Systems Submarine Solutions. "Astute class submarines will play a key role in the defense of the United Kingdom for decades to come. The boats demonstrate a steep change in capability when compared to those they will replace."
The Astute class submarine is a massive project going back 20 years to the beginning of its design and development. Astute had its first test dive in 2007 and returned to the huge Devonshire Dock Hall at Barrow for further engineering and commissioning work.
Major components such as the reactor and drive system are being built by very large suppliers such as Rolls-Royce with whom BAE has long-standing relationships. Thousands of individual parts, components and commodities, however, are being manufactured by hundreds of smaller suppliers. In terms of keeping the project on budget and on schedule, these items are just as important as the very large components.
"We get involved in the interlinking items such as procuring all the cable, junction boxes, tiles, tallies and other items," says Robert Graham, project leader for the commodities ordering team within the supply chain department of BAE Systems Submarines Solutions. "Our work may not be as glamorous as the weapons systems and sophisticated communications, but the commodities team is involved with every component on the boat from the nuclear reactor down to the door handles on the cabins."
In fact, an Astute submarine has more than 110 kilometers of cable and pipework, 30,000 tiles of various types that cover the outer hull and 44,000 tallies, which are essentially labels that identify the form and function of every value, circuit and important item on the boat. With four subs at various stages of completion, managing the flow of these thousands of components to arrive at exactly the right time from more than 150 suppliers is a massive task.
To help the commodities team deal with this complexity, BAE is now using a collaborative application called ForumPass from Exostar, which is an on-demand solution provider jointly owned by Boeing, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, Lockheed Martin, and BAE Systems. In fact, Exostar was created by these A&D OEMs to improve their supply chain capabilities as they increasingly pass more responsibility onto outside suppliers and partners to save money and time in developing and producing new products. With these extended supply chain partners managing more projects, broader tasks and responsibilities, as well as more inventory and larger work packages, better collaborative tools were needed.
A Collaborative Tool
ForumPass is the latest, and the most flexible application introduced by Exostar, which also offers such on-demand applications as ProcurePass and SourcePass.
Graham says that his group decided to use ForumPass because they needed a collaborative tool that could handle large volumes and precise scheduling that needed constant review and data sharing by many parties, both inside BAE and with the suppliers.
With ForumPass's integrated collaboration functionality, OEMs can manage every aspect of a project's lifecycle in a secure, online environment, and benefit from improved communication, better quality, faster cycle times and significant cost savings. It is designed to support integrated project teams involving external partners or geographically dispersed members. ForumPass enables greater control over project-oriented work in the value chain, facilitating better management of costs, deadlines, expectations and results. ForumPass enables:
• File sharing and document management
• Secure joint proposal management
• Net meetings and concurrent/real-time working environments
• Process management and routing
• Product design and collaboration.
Managing the Flow
According to David Johnson, senior buyer on the commodities team, ForumPass has solved many of the supply chain problems that previously nagged the project.
Before ForumPass, disciplines such as engineering, pipefitting or mechanicals used its own spreadsheets to keep track of as many as 20,000 line items. Each group placed its orders directly with a procurement person in the supply department in a piecemeal process that resulted in an erratic flow of materials. The manufacturers and suppliers would receive simultaneous orders from each working group, so they often were overloaded to the point deliveries were delayed.
"There was no overall plan, and each group was competing with the others for their materials," says Johnson. "It was difficult to control delivery given the large volumes and the need to have parts available exactly when they were needed."
One of the key collaborative capabilities of ForumPass eliminates this problem.
ForumPass provides spreadsheets that can be posted online, so every party with the proper security can access the same information at the same time. Engineers can post requirements and revisions regularly, and the suppliers are automatically alerted when new information is available, and that they need to take a specific action. The manufacturer knows immediately what it needs to do and when the action, such as a delivery, is needed.
"It used to be a nightmare controlling the volume," says Johnson. "Items were constantly lost, damaged and broken. We need precision. The tallies in particular have to be exactly right and the information on the tally has to be correct, otherwise they are useless. With ForumPass you have a complete record right from the initial conception of the tally from the engineer right through to when it is placed in a specific location on the boat."
As simple as the tallies are, a recent accident on a submarine at sea (not part of this project) has highlighted their safety value. A tally plate was wrongly placed on a valve, so when a seaman turned the value according to the instructions on the plate, there was a minor emergency.
"Fortunately, the incident was not serious, but it has raised the awareness of the importance of the tallies both with BAE and the Navy," says Graham. "There are 44,000 of these tallies on each boat, and everyone has to be right. The crew has to know what buttons to push or values to turn."
The tally spreadsheets also serve a budgeting function. Besides the columns for operational data such as the manufacture date, the delivery date, receipt information and so on, there is a "remake" column that is used if the product is lost, damaged or rejected. Johnson explains that this information is important to segregate because all remakes go under a different budget.
"If the manufacturer has to remake any items, they populate this column," says Johnson. "This function allows us to keep track of these remakes and properly manage the budget."
Building four submarines simultaneously presents its supply chain challenges, especially for items such as the hull tiles that come in many types and in great quantities.
"We must avoid having each boat project fighting the others to receive tiles at the same time," says Johnson. "If a boat needs a specific tile to stay on schedule and the manufacturer is not in production for that tile, we have a problem. ForumPass helps keep the flow orderly for the suppliers, and allows them to deliver the right tiles in the right quantities to each boat."
Buyers provide the suppliers with advanced information that meets their lead times, and the supplier can see real time information on any changes in delivery requirements. If the suppliers see a possible conflict, that alert will immediately go to buyers, engineers and anyone else that needs to make scheduling adjustments.
Design is likely to become an important business process that ForumPass can provide for the fourth submarine in the Astute program. For example, to complete the design of an important valve, the BAE team is using ForumPass to manage the technical approval process with its supplier. The engineers produced drawings of the valves and shared them online with all the internal and external technicians who have to review and approve them. ForumPass makes this very easy and provides the ability to provide comments, which was not the case for the first three boats that were well under way before ForumPass was implemented. The approval process for the valves was done manually for these vessels. Drawings and documents were mailed back and forth between the technicians and engineers. Emails were used to help move the process along, but there was no easy way to confirm or ask questions and keep track of any changes. With about 50 or 60 drawings, the approval process for all of the valves took well over 12 months to accomplish.
"We have had the use of ForumPass for the fourth boat, so the process has been far easier and faster," says Graham. "We just loaded all the valve drawings and documents into the application. The drawings were exchanged and routed automatically between the supplier and our technical people. The entire process was shortened to three months."
The next commodity project for the Astute program is likely to expand the use of ForumPass to support the sourcing and selection of select machining suppliers.
"ForumPass is not really designed for electronic RFQs," says Graham. "SourcePass is designed for that task, but we think ForumPass has the capability to handle this requirement, so we do not have to implement a new application just for this task."
Graham's team is setting up a program where they will send out drawings and the requirements to machining companies. These prospective suppliers will send back quotes so the buyer can make a vendor selection.
"ForumPass should make this process quite simple," says Graham. "We can put a complete pack of information in a separate file for each supplier on ForumPass and introduce all the suppliers to the project. They can place a quote into their own file, and the buyer can make an easy comparison."
Exostar has not yet integrated all of its applications such as ProcurePass and SourcePass, so ForumPass users are finding that this application can handle basic procurement and project bidding rather than switch back and forth between the tools.
"ForumPass can be used for any type of information that is a document transfer, even bidding and proposals," says Vijay Takanti, vice president of security and collaborative solutions for Exostar. "ForumPass does not have the built-in workflow that is found in our sourcing applications, but it is convenient for simple proposals. We will have a link between all of our applications in the near future."
A side benefit of ForumPass is the immediate view the OEM has of any significant supplier performance problems. According to BAE's Graham, one of the initial suppliers on ForumPass was constantly not meeting its delivery deadlines. Graham explains that the supplier was "economical with the truth." The supplier claimed that it had delivered materials that were never delivered. Quantities of materials were often incorrect. Efforts to correct the problems did not work.
"We were able to spot these discrepancies very quickly with ForumPass," says Graham, adding that BAE had no choice except to remove the supplier from the project. "We actually just blocked their access to the ForumPass information and brought in a new supplier. Our internal people did not even know we had made the switch it was so smooth."
The submarine commodity team is now using ForumPass with five suppliers and will soon bring on another three or four. In the next year, Graham says the number of suppliers could rise to 20 or 30.
"We are still in the early stages of implementing this tool," he says. "Internal and external users are coming to us with ideas on how to use the tool. The suppliers in particular see a benefit in that they can lower their administrative and inventory costs. They can operate leaner and use more just-in time manufacturing, especially with high-volume products."
Like many OEMs that are increasingly tied in with their suppliers, BAE is undertaking a major initiative to create deeper relationships. At BAE the initiative is called the Supply Chains in the Twenty First Century program, or just SC21.
"The idea is to move away from the adversarial supply chain to a win-win partnership," says Graham. "Electronic collaboration such as we are building with ForumPass can be a big part of this effort."
For example, Graham's commodities group is moving toward category management where the internal and external groups such as engineers, planners and logistics people operate as a team.
"Using ForumPass you can operate as a virtual business unit," says Graham. "We all are eager to develop category management, and ForumPass is the ideal tool to support such a team because we are all operating on same data. It is the single point of truth."
One reason that ForumPass has been so easy to implement is that it is built on the Microsoft SharePoint platform, which is a standard Office application that many companies already use to share files, calendars, links, blogs and other data.
"We used the SharePoint platform because it has a very user friendly interface that is quite intuitive," says Takanti. "It looks and works just like any other Windows application, and it integrates well any other Office applications. ForumPass enables organizations to work together better in a shared internet-based collaborative workspace."
Exostar has made a number of enhancements to the SharePoint application, both for security and ease of use in the A&D industry. Exostar provides its OEM customers with a pre-packaged site that it has developed based on its long experience with the A&D industry. Each site is fine-tuned for the specific user. This "quick start" approach creates links for to all the projects where each user is a member. Very little training is needed. Users just click on the project and they have access to the files and folders and receive alerts when they are supposed to take action or be aware of a change.
Exostar has also integrated WebEx into ForumPass, so users can hold secure online conferences, simultaneously review or annotate documents and receive announcements.
Supply Chain Initiative Boosts Competitiveness at BAE Systems
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.