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Lean principles have become general business practice, he says. A look round the industry bears this out. GE uses a number of optimization techniques, but Lean is “out in front,” says Tom Bradley, plant leader at the company’s Terre Haute, Ind., engine components repair facility. Lean is intuitive. “We see it as the most practical and the best use of time,” he says. AFI KLM E&M likewise sees Lean not as a marketing tool but as a tool to get the basics right and remain competitive. Lean methods are a precondition of competitiveness, agrees Tobias Brendel, LHT Engine Services’ manager of Lean production.

The basic idea of Lean is quite simple, Langer says. Given the huge variability experienced in the engine repair and overhaul business, “your resources have to be as flexible as the variability of your product.” If there’s a mismatch between variability and flexibility, you get waste—people or products wait. So Lean tries to reduce variability, increase flexibility and reduce waste. Among the variables are when the engine is going to show up

at our door, what it’s going to look like once it’s disassembled, what materials are going to be required and where the material is going to come from, explains Cristina Seda-Hoelle, GE Engines site manager in Strother, Kan. We try to make processes as standardized and repeatable as possible,” Seda-Hoelle says. “We try to level-load the input.” Plant managers control the number of engines they will put into the shops in a given week, for example. Since they know how many slots they’re going to have, they can work with customers on slot availability, she explains. “We try to keep a steady beat through the shops, to keep the flow going.”

Cost of Lean Across all industries many Lean efforts fail. Some would-be practitioners don’t realize that Lean comes at a cost, explains John Grout, dean of the Campbell School of Business at Berry College in Georgia. While workers are analyzing the problem and preparing the solution, something probably isn’t getting done. There’s almost always a decline in performance at the outset, Grout says. There may be cases where waste has already been cut or where Lean doesn’t apply (e.g., oil refineries), but these are rare, given the tendency of processes to decay. But if the people have identified the right problem and crafted the right solution, the decline will be short- term. Middle managers, who are judged on performance metrics, may be reluctant to take a hit for the company, however. From their perspective “Lean almost always feels like the wrong thing to do,” he says. “It takes a leap of faith.” That’s why top management, as well as everyone else, needs to be engaged. Successes involve reduction of waste—often measured in time or material. Typically, a lot of time—maybe months—has gone

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into analysis, discussion, communication and preparation. Often the germ of the idea has bubbled up from the experts, the folks on the shop floor. There is a plan but there is flexibility within the plan, room for trial and error—sort of like the scientific method, Grout says. And perhaps most importantly the workforce is not afraid of change. As GE’s Bradley puts it, “We might set the floor one way one week and high-five each other and say, this is the best it’s ever been, but six months later we change it to make it even better.”

“ StandardAero developed a visual

Chris Schechter, Vice President of Operational Excellence for StandardAero

scheduling system which looks at downstream capacity...”

Saving Time StandardAero, an eclectic MRO, has chalked up recent successes with its optimization brand, Operational Excellence, a combination of Lean, Six Sigma, theory of constraints and supply chain management. The company decreased TAT on its high- volume CF34 product line by 30 percent and increased labor utilization by 20 percent last year, says Chris Schechter, the MRO’s vice president of operational excellence. Likewise StandardAero’s Components Sector raised on-time delivery by more than 30 percent and increased financial gross margin by 30 percent, while growing revenue by 20 percent and improving customer service.

One innovation in the CF34 product line involved simply changing the sequence of an operation so that certain components waiting for inspection would not build up, increasing repair TAT. The repair cells at the CF34 factory also developed a visual scheduling system which looks at downstream capacity before routing a part to the next step in order to smooth out potential bottlenecks.

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