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ates it from Detroit’s. It’s an overhead carrier that can move an engine along the line at a speed that’s independent from other carriers and engines. “We did a lot of benchmarking in the auto industry and the one thing that works well for them but doesn’t for us is, all their cars move in unison, because it’s a very high-volume, very repetitive processes. Relative to automotive, we have very low volume, very high-precision processes. The technol- ogy that enabled it was a carrier—a vertical overhead carrier that’s able to position itself independently on an encoded monorail.”


These carriers can each lift 12,000 lb (5400 kg) and the total length of the monorail system, including bays where the engines are dressed, is 223,190 mm—about 732' or eight basketball courts, according to company literature. “We designed the size of the line so that when you maximize the number of carriers on it for the peak assembly volume that we’re projecting plus some margin, we have what we’re calling ‘time of separation’ between carriers,” Sluis said. “So if something happens—we’re missing a part, we have a quality issue or something has to be checked, and this engine gets stopped—the engine behind it on the line can still continue for up to four hours without needing to stop. We can ebb and flow the line, engine by engine.” The system can hold 20 carriers and each carrier can hold any of the current next-generation product family—a “true mixed-model line,” according to Sluis. They currently are building the PW1100G-JM on the Middletown line, but “we have the capability to build any of the other product family engines. This line is capable of building, in any sequence, any of those models. “We designed flexibility, multimodel capability, in from the beginning,” Sluis said. “We wanted something that wouldn’t require retrofitting three, four, five years down the road for something we knew was likely to be coming. Rather we made the investment up front.”


What Makes it Lean? This assembly process depends on what the company terms the Operational Management System—an internally developed software system that ties together the overhead carrier system, work instructions and material delivery systems. Every task completed on the engine, whether it be installing a minor component or putting torque on a bolt, gets signed for electronically as a quality check. That signature also triggers a movement of the engine down the line—but, Sluis explained, not a lot of movement. “Every time a mechanic, say, puts a tube onto the engine


and signs off electronically on completing that step, the carri- er moves forward a very, very small amount—a small fraction of an inch. Over the course of a shift, if the mechanic com- pletes all the tasks expected, the carrier will move about 15' [4.5 m]. To the mechanic, [each move] is almost impercep- tible, but from an operations viewpoint you can very quickly see the progression of the engine through the process—and by looking at that separation between engines, you can get a quick sense of which ones are ahead and which ones are behind. In the old method, we really didn’t flow the engine like that, and you really couldn’t see that visually.” Each electronic step signoff also triggers a “pull” signal for material needed in an upcoming task, Sluis explained. It “sig- nals the materials system to bring the hardware in for what’s coming up next. The material arrives typically about half a shift before the mechanic is going to use it. That way we’re not storing material on the assembly floor. It’s all tied together with this Operational Management System software.” These are all hallmarks of a lean system, but a more important hallmark of lean would be the empowering of the people who do the actual work to help to continuously improve the processes. Sluis says that that’s been going on since the beginning here: “We started developing this system in early 2012,” he said. “I was on the initial team that launched this effort for the Middletown and West Palm Beach facilities—we have the same system in both facilities. We began by getting all of the stakeholders together, and we started brainstorming. A lot of the ideas we came up with ended up going by the wayside, but some of the core concepts were developed [in those meetings] and stayed, and from that we built the system.” Since then, the involvement of the people on the line has


remained central, he says. “One of the things we’ve learned during this transition is


that it’s really important to get the feedback from the me- chanics that are using the equipment and the assembly pro- cesses that we’re implementing, and embrace that feedback and make changes that support that. Even in the early design phase we involved the mechanics and the end-users of the tools and the systems, and designed their input in. “If you go out to the shop floor and you talk to the me- chanics and talk to the process engineers, or even the people in the maintenance groups that are supporting the equip- ment, they’ve all got very insightful things to say. We listen to their feedback. I think that’s really what has given us the good results that we’ve gotten so far.”


53 — Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing 2015


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