PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
757 program uses Lean to help weather industry challenges
BY SANDRA ANGERS
With the simple flip of a switch, the 100-ton 757 in the last position of the assembly line began moving continuously at a pace of 24 feet a day.
Just as Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry with the assembly line, Corvi, 737/757 vice president and general manager, believes Boeing employees are revolutionizing aerospace manufacturing.
''What we are doing is creating a brand-new production system,'' said Corvi. ''It will mean great improvements in productivity and more value for our customers. It's difficult to see today, but years from now people will look back and realize that they were a part of history—that they were responsible for revolutionizing the way we build commercial airplanes.''
Like its sister airplane programs, the 757 program is incorporating Lean manufacturing principles and practices that enable smooth, continuous production. Lean tactics such as delivering tools and parts to the point of use, standardizing work procedures and using visual signals to indicate production status are eliminating wasted effort and reducing the time it takes to assemble airplanes.
''We're enhancing quality, reducing flow time by 15 percent, and getting the cost out of the airplane,'' said Marty Chamberlin, 757 factory superintendent. ''Delivering airplanes on time with uncompromising quality and reduced costs are the elements that our customers value.''
Known as a fast, clean and quiet airplane, the 757 has an established history of excellence in the marketplace. About 58 airlines and other operators from 27 countries around the world have ordered 1,050 757s.
The 757-200's exceptional performance capability allows airlines to operate from almost any airport in the world, including those with short runways, hot and cold extremes, and high altitudes. For example, 757-200s easily fly in and out of the world's highest-altitude commercial airport at Bangda, Tibet, at 14,219 feet.
The stretched 757-300 has been performing well in service, recently debuting in the scheduled, dual-class market with North American carriers Northwest Airlines and Continental Airlines.
''We've been pleased with the Boeing 757-300's performance, which we primarily fly to our leisure markets,'' said Continental Airlines' Chairman and CEO Gordon Bethune. ''Since the 757-300 joined Continental's fleet in December 2001, it has provided us the absolute lowest cost per available seat mile with the highest reliability.''
Soft in the middle
So with such success in service, why are such fundamental changes in the factory necessary?
Granted, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the softened economy have had a profound effect on the commercial aviation industry. But, Randy Baseler, vice president of Commercial Airplanes Marketing, said, even if the events of Sept. 11 had not occurred, the middle market would be struggling on its own accord.
Airlines have booked a total of 18 orders so far this year for middle-market airplanes such as the A321, A330-200, 767, and 757, which typically hold between 200 and 300 seats.
''The middle market, which the 757 serves, is especially soft for both Boeing and Airbus,'' said Baseler. ''It's all about market evolution. We've seen it in the United States and we see it in Europe. Once you free up airlines to go back to competing with each other, they do what passengers want, and that's more frequencies, and more non-stop flights.''
When specific routes are profitable and there is passenger demand, airlines are meeting this demand by increasing the number of flights, not the size of their airplanes. The result has been that more carriers are choosing to go point to point with smaller airplanes such as the popular 737.
Kicking it up another notch
Despite this, Baseler said the 757 family is positioned very well for growth. The 20-year forecast for middle-market-sized airplanes like the 757 is an outstanding 2,800 units.
''Eventually, frequency saturation will occur,'' said Baseler. ''You can only provide so many flights a day, so airlines will have to go up in size and move out of the 100-to- 200-seat market and up to the 200-to-300- seat market. That will present an opportunity for an airplane the size of the 757.''
That may be occurring already. Delta Air Lines is in the process of replacing its 119-seat 737s with 183-seat 757s on flights between New York's JFK Airport and Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach, Fla., this winter. The carrier said the 50-percent-capacity boost along these routes is in response to strong demand.
Baseler also believes airlines will need airplanes like the 757 to replace aging airplanes. As more than 4,000 airplanes around the world approach retirement, airlines find the efficient 757-300 a profitable replacement for older DC-10s, L-1011s, A300s and A310s.
Designed for fuel efficiency, the 757 burns much less fuel than older airplanes and has dramatically lower operating costs. Compared to the 757-300, a DC-10 burns 53 percent more fuel per seat. The total cash operating cost per seat is 26 percent higher for an A300 and 54 percent higher for an L-1011 compared to the 757-300.
In fact, carriers like American Trans Air and Northwest Airlines are using 757-300s as replacements for aging fleets of L-1011s and DC-10s, respectively.
''The 757 family is playing a critical role in helping Northwest lower costs, enhance customer comfort, improve reliability, and reduce noise and emissions,'' said Greg May, vice president of Aircraft Transactions for Northwest Airlines. ''Both the -200 and -300 models are well-suited to the most popular domestic routes out of our convenient Minneapolis/ St. Paul, Detroit and Memphis hubs.''
Ready when they are
But with few new orders booked and a diminishing backlog for the 757, the airplane program must find a way to remain competitive until airlines are ready to order new airplanes. That's why activities like the Lean implementation are critical.
In addition to Lean, the 757 program also continues to invest in product features. Just this summer, Boeing increased engine offerings for the 757-300 when it had the model certified with Pratt & Whitney engines. It also is studying product development activities for a new freighter as well as a longer-range derivative called the 757-200ERX.
''As one of the world's most reliable, fuel-efficient and environmentally responsible airplanes, the 757 offers exceptional value to our customers,'' said Corvi. ''We're confident that airlines will continue to choose the 757 when they're financially stable. Until then, we'll continue to invest in improving our factories and processes.''
The success of this strategy rests in the hands of employees, Chamberlin added.
''Our employees know best how to put together the airplane efficiently and enhance quality to make sure the 757 is around for a long time,'' said Chamberlin. ''They really care about the success of the program. Even though manufacturing is not the whole picture, we're going to do our part to make sure the airplane continues to be successful.''
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