First of all, for software, agile is a benefit to manufacturing

The company focused on solving the most difficult problems in the initial design phase with sprints as a team and then moved to smaller groups for detailed design efforts. They used fast feedback loops in simulation and testing to improve design before going into production.

This focus on agile development and manufacturing helped Zipline bring its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from design to marketed and escalated operations in Ghana and Rwanda in less than 18 months, a timeline that included six months of hard development and six more months of prototype testing. , and final six months in design validation and engineering verification.

“Overall, the idea of ​​focusing resources on a specific problem in sprints is something we’re moving back from the software world to the hardware world,” says Devin Williams, chief mechanical engineer of the UAV production platform at Zipline. . “One thing we do very well is find the minimum viable product and then go and prove it in the field.”

Using an agile process allows Zipline to focus on launching product changes that adapt to customer needs quickly, while maintaining high reliability. The San Francisco Bay Area company now has distribution centers in North Carolina and Arkansas, with another underway in Salt Lake City, and will soon launch in Japan as well as new markets throughout Africa. .

The zip line is not alone. From startups to manufacturers with decades of history, companies are turning to agile design, development and manufacturing to create innovative products at lower costs. Aircraft manufacturer Bye Aerospace reduced costs by more than half in its development of an electric aircraft and accelerated the pace of its prototypes. And Boeing used agile processes to win the two-pilot TX training aircraft project with the U.S. Air Force.

In general, the application of agile methodologies should be a priority for every manufacturer. For aerospace and defense companies, whose complex projects have followed the long time horizons of waterfall development, agile designs and developments are needed to propel the industry into the era of urban air mobility and the future of space exploration.

The evolution of traditional product design

While agile production has its origins in the Kanban method of just-in-time car manufacturing developed in the 1940s at Toyota, the modern agile framework for development was perfected in the late 1990s by programmers looking for better ways to produce. software. Instead of creating a “cascade” development pipeline that included specific stages, such as design and testing, Agile Development focused on creating a product that works, the minimum viable product, as soon as possible and then iterating. technology. In 2000, a group of 17 developers wrote the Agile Manifesto, focusing on how software works, people and interactions, and customer collaboration.

Over the past decade, agile software development has focused on DevOps, “development and operations,” which creates interdisciplinary teams and the culture for application development. Design companies and product manufacturers have also taken the lessons of agility and reintegrated them into the manufacturing lifecycle. As a result, manufacturing now consists of small teams that iterate products, return real-world lessons to the supply chain, and use software tools to accelerate collaboration.

In the aerospace and defense industry, known for the complexity of its products and systems, agile is bringing benefits. By working on the development of the two-seat TX jet trainer, Boeing was committed to developing agile design and manufacturing processes, which has been half the cost of the program for the U.S. Air Force, an increase. 75% in initial prototype quality, half the software development time and 80% reduction in assembly time.

“We adopted an agile mindset and a blockchain approach to hardware and software integration,” says Paul Niewald, director of software at Boeing TX. “This led us to launch software every eight weeks and test it at the system level to validate our requirements. Doing so in such a disciplined, frequent manner allowed us to reduce our software effort by 50%. .

In the end, TX went from design to construction of “production-representation jets” in three years. This is a significant deviation from the initial development of traditional aircraft programs, which use cascading development in the early stages of design and development and may require a decade of development.

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

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