Above all for software, Agile is a boon for manufacturing

The company focused on solving the most difficult problems early in the design phase with team sprints, and then moved on to smaller teams for detailed design. They used fast simulation and test feedback loops to improve designs before going into production.

This focus on agile development and manufacturing helped Zipline move from unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) design to commercialization and large-scale operations in Ghana and Rwanda in less than 18 months, a timeline that included six months of tough development, another six months of prototype testing. and the last six months for design and engineering checks.

“Overall, the idea of ​​focusing resources on a specific issue in sprints is what we’re bringing from the software world back to the hardware world,” says Devin Williams, lead mechanical engineer on the UAV manufacturing platform at Zipline. “One thing we do really well is to find a minimum viable product and then test it in the field.”

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

The zipline is not alone. From startups to multi-year manufacturers, companies are turning to agile design, development, and manufacturing to create innovative products at lower cost. Aircraft manufacturer Bye Aerospace has more than halved development costs for an electric aircraft and accelerated the pace of its prototypes. And Boeing used agile processes to win a two-pilot TX trainer project for the United States Air Force.

In general, applying agile methodologies should be a priority for every manufacturer. Aerospace and defense companies, whose complex projects typically followed long horizons of cascading development, need flexible design and development to propel the industry into the era of urban air mobility and future space exploration.

Evolution of traditional product design

While agile manufacturing has its origins in the Kanban method of making cars on time, developed in the 1940s at Toyota, the modern agile development structure was refined in the late 1990s by programmers looking for better ways to create software. Rather than creating a waterfall development pipeline involving specific phases such as design and testing, Agile development has focused on creating a working product, a minimum viable product, as early as possible in the process, and then iterating the technology. In 2000, a group of 17 developers developed an Agile manifestfocused on running software, individuals and interactions, and collaboration with customers.

Over the past decade, agile software development has focused on DevOps – “development and operations” – which creates interdisciplinary teams and an application development culture. Likewise, design companies and product manufacturers have learned from flexibility and reintegrated it into the manufacturing lifecycle. As a result, manufacturing now consists of small teams that replicate products, pass real-life lessons back into the supply chain, and use software tools to accelerate collaboration.

In the aerospace and defense industry, well known for the complexity of their products and systems, agile benefits. In development work TX two-seater jet trainerBoeing has committed to developing flexible design and manufacturing processes, resulting in half the program cost for the US Air Force, 75% improvement in original prototype quality, halving software development time, and 80% reduction in assembly. time.

“We took a flexible approach and approach to integrating hardware and software,” says Paul Nivald, Boeing TX program manager. “This forced us to release software every eight weeks and test it at the system level to validate our requirements. Doing it in this disciplined way – with frequency – has enabled us to cut our software development efforts by 50%. ”

As a result, TX went from design to production of “production aircraft” in three years. This is a major departure from the original design of traditional aircraft programs, which use waterfall development early in the design and development phase and can take decades of development.

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This content was produced by Insights, the User Content division of MIT Technology Review. This was not written by the editors of the MIT Technology Review.

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