First is software, agile is a boon for manufacturing

The company focuses on solving the most challenging problems in the early design stages, sprinting as a team and then moving into smaller teams for detailed design work. They use rapid feedback loops in simulation and testing to improve designs before going into production.

This focus on agile development and manufacturing helped Zipline move its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from design to commercialization and large-scale operations in Ghana and Rwanda in less than 18 months, including 6 months of Core development and another 6 months of prototype testing, and final six months of design validation and engineering validation.

Devin Williams, chief mechanical engineer of the Zipline UAV production platform, said: “In general, the idea of ​​focusing resources on specific issues in the sprint is something we are bringing back from the software world to the hardware world.” “We do. One of the good things is finding the minimum viable product and then proving it in the field.”

Using an agile process allows Zipline to focus on releasing product changes, quickly meeting customer needs, while maintaining high reliability. The San Francisco Bay Area company now has distribution centers in North Carolina and Arkansas. Another is opening in Salt Lake City and will soon be launched in new markets in Japan and throughout Africa.

Zipline is not alone. From startups to decades-old manufacturers, companies are turning to agile design, development and manufacturing to create innovative products at lower cost. Aircraft maker Bye Aerospace has more than halved the development cost of electric planes and accelerated the development of prototypes. Boeing used agile processes to win the US Air Force’s TX dual-pilot trainer program.

Overall, applying agile methods should be a priority for every manufacturer. For aerospace and defense companies whose complex projects usually follow the long-term vision of waterfall development, agile design and development are required to propel the industry into the era of urban air transportation and the future of space exploration.

The evolution of traditional product design

Although agile production originated from the instant car manufacturing Kanban method developed by Toyota in the 1940s, the modern agile development framework was improved in the late 1990s by programmers seeking better software production methods. Agile development is not about creating a “waterfall” development pipeline that includes specific stages (such as design and testing), but instead focuses on creating work products as early as possible, that is, the smallest viable product, and then iterating the technology. In 2000, a group of 17 developers Drafting the Agile Manifesto, which focuses on work software, personal and interaction, and client collaboration.

In the past ten years, agile software development has focused on DevOps-“development and operations”-which creates interdisciplinary teams and culture for application development. Likewise, design firms and product manufacturers have taken the lessons of agile and reintegrated them into the manufacturing lifecycle. As a result, manufacturing now consists of small teams iterating on products, feeding real-world experience back to the supply chain, and using software tools to accelerate collaboration.

In the aerospace and defense industry, known for the complexity of its products and systems, agility is bringing benefits.working on developing TX two-seater jet trainer, Boeing is committed to developing agile design and manufacturing processes, which cut the cost of the U.S. Air Force project by half, the quality of initial prototypes increased by 75%, software development time was cut by half, and assembly time was cut by 80%.

“We used agile thinking and a block planning approach to hardware and software integration,” said Paul Niewald, Boeing TX program manager. “This allows us to release the software every eight weeks and test it at the system level to verify our requirements. By doing this, in this disciplined way (frequency), we can reduce the software workload by 50%. ”

Ultimately, it took the TX three years to go from design to building a “production representative jet.” This is very different from the initial development of a traditional aircraft program, which uses waterfall development in the initial design and development phase, which can take up to ten years to develop.

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This content is produced by Insights, the custom content division of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the editorial staff of MIT Technology Review.

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