Testing 1,2,3

Posted on 11 Aug 2009 by The Manufacturer

The Aeroflex Group, established in 1937, is a global provider of microelectronic test and measurement solutions for the aerospace, defence, wireless mobile, broadband communications, and advanced manufacturing markets.

Within its remit as a group, Aeroflex is split into two distinct operations. An industry-leading – i.e. Rockwell Collins Discreet Semiconductor Commodity Supplier of the year for 2009 – microelectrics solutions group, specialising in the design and manufacture of high-reliability integrated circuits, motion control, and microwave/RF devices, it represents the group’s predominantly North American operations.

Secondly, and encompassing the Stevenage-based Aeroflex Europe, is a test solutions group which targets the test and measurement instrumentation marketplace, with products including spectrum analysers, turnkey systems, stand alone boxes and related modular components.

In technology we trust
Given the complexity of Aeroflex’s high performance wireless and broadband manufacturing solutions, a dedication to those technologies which provide superior product performance and maturity remains fundamental to its success. Indeed, this commitment to advanced technological innovation has, without doubt, enabled Aeroflex to lead the sector in terms of intellectual property, manufacturing processes, and R&D advances.

While the company regards flexible manufacturing as central to its past, present, and future success, however, it has simultaneously undertaken a programme of global outsourcing so as to achieve those extendable solutions which are critical to retaining products of the highest possible quality. In doing so, Aeroflex seeks to leverage its established corporate buying power, ensuring that the supply chain is continuously generating solutions which enable the company to provide flexibility, creativity, and cost-effectiveness to its diverse range of customers.

Coupled with outsourcing of a number of its technical processes, since the turn of the decade Aeroflex has sought to operate its UK-based manufacturing with an ever greater degree of automation.

Primarily, the firm has invested significant capital in products which are modular in construction, one such example being the PXI range of RF instruments, designed to expand speed and modularity in the realm of wireless testing. Central to reducing the degree of manual assembly, attended test time required, and overall labour costs has been the company’s ability to implement ever more unique methods of operation, thus keeping it further ahead of its competitors within the sector.

Equally significant to the business as a whole is the fact that product lifecycles have been reduced almost beyond recognition, from an average timescale of five years in 2005 to a current capacity to bring products from cradle to market in less than twelve months. Such a transformation, is largely due to, and in spite of an annual turnover of $200m, its actively seeking to establish an organic, small company mentality, therefore allowing Aeroflex to avoid unduly cumbersome red tape when getting a product signed off. This sense of financial freedom allows it to control sector and third tier overheads, together with enabling a more nuanced analysis as to the risks associated with in-house development versus procurement.

Taken together, these processes – lean, by any other name – significantly reduce the product lifecycle, increase companywide agility, and, ultimately, is reflected in the scope of the firm’s global presence.

Coupled with the lean and Just in Time principles already in place, Aeroflex has been implementing other initiatives designed to refine space allocation on the shop floor. The result being that any phase of production being undertaken on the shop floor at any one time will be included in a solution delivered to the customer within four weeks.

To ensure such rapid turnaround cycles, Aeroflex uses a Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) programme, which provisions all aspects of its order book. To enable its delivery lead times to remain under four weeks, the company calculates material to a forecast, and runs processes that provision material in readiness for projected orders. The forecasts, backlog, and sales activity are thus subject to weekly review, meaning that the supply chain, manufacturing processes, and final shop floor testing come together to produce an industry-leading range of products within a greatly reduced lead time.

Top down, bottom up, middle out
While few – if any – businesses would argue that the global economic downturn represents a welcomed interruption to a decade of growth, one aspect of the recession that Aeroflex has been pleasantly surprised with relates to the changing face of recruitment. Whilst it would be wrong to say that the company has undertaken a company wide recruitment drive within the last eighteen months, given that it is positioned as a globally-leading provider in the sector, maintaining an awareness of the engineering talent available in the market is fundamental to ensuring that Aeroflex remain ahead of the chasing pack. As a result, where recruitment has been necessary, Aeroflex has found a sizeable pool of specialists from which to choose.

Unlike those companies which implement strategic plans ten or twenty years in advance, Aeroflex Europe resists such rigidity of operation. Indeed, given the nature and culture of its business, the company actively opposes setting goals for decades in the future. Indeed – and ultimately vindicated by present economic conditions – the company believes in setting shorter windows of two years at a maximum, a ‘live document’ which thus enables it to assimilate any unforeseen market or technological variables into its strategy. That being said, the company has targeted the domination of the wireless test marketplace, with regard to both mobile phone and PDA operations, as its most critical strategic goal.

The company philosophy is top down, bottom up, and middle out. Of particular importance is the entrepreneurial ethos that has been cultivated at Aeroflex, in that its look to surge that energy throughout the organisation, rather than being negatively restricted by rigid strategic goals from a distant boardroom.

As has been painfully realized for many across industry in recent months, the market is not, and has never been, a stationary phenomenon. For that reason alone, Aeroflex has no intention of being such an organisation. Quite in opposition, the company is committed to the culture of agility which has positioned it as a world-class manufacturer across each sector of its portfolio, and through the continuation of such innovative corporate direction, research initiatives, and high performance manufacturing processes, the company is set to remain as the first choice for global test, measurement, and microelectronic solutions.”