Boeing Frontiers
November 2002 
Volume 01, Issue 07 
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Amplifying quality

Spaceway team cranks out power amps and beam formers by the thousands


They may be small—about four square inches apiece—but they form the heart of the Spaceway phased-array downlink antenna.

They are also highly complex.

But that did not stop Boeing Satellite Systems RF (Radio Frequency) Electronics from cranking them out at rates approaching 500 per week.

These are the power amplifier modules and beam-forming modules that RF Electronics began producing last November in the Array Electronics Focused Factory at El Segundo, Calif. This month RF Electronics delivered the last of the 1,500 power amplifier modules and 3,000 beam-forming modules that will populate the Spaceway F1 satellite’s phased-array downlink antenna.

The beam-forming modules provide electronic steering of 24 antenna beams and help adjust and combine 12 signals into one signal for the power amplifier modules.

The power amplifier modules amplify signals to one of three possible power levels for transmission to Earth.

The downlink phased-array antenna consists of 44 rows of layered hardware and circuitry. Each row includes up to 44 power amplifier modules and 88 beam-forming modules integrated into two row distribution steering assemblies. The antenna, which has up to 24 simultaneous spot beams, enables flexible coverage and bandwidth-on-demand communications services.

The modules will help Spaceway’s two Boeing 702 satellites provide voice, data, images and video, as well as interactive digital communications networks and high-speed Internet access to North American customers. Spaceway F1 is scheduled for launch next year.

Boeing credits the success of the project to the processes the team is using.

“One key was the Design for Manufacturing, Assembly, and Test process that was implemented in the program’s design phase,” said Bob Kidwell, director of Electronics Manufacturing. “This made mass production of these challenging products as easy as possible.”

The team also applied Lean manufacturing methods from the outset. Another element Kidwell touts is the Manufacturing Execution System, which is “our electronic shop floor control system, which gives information on the exact location of each module in the production process in real time. We didn’t have to spend time searching through three or four thousand pieces of paper.”

Lean manufacturing initiatives included work cells, kanbans (a visual method for announcing that a product is ready for processing), and low work-in-process inventories. Balanced production capacity arose from early capacity analysis, cycle-time analysis, and integrated assembly and test functions.

Technicians assembled the modules in seven assembly steps and followed up with three test procedures.

With the module manufacturing complete, Spaceway takes a giant step toward launch and eventual deployment. Lessons learned in producing the power amplifier modules and beam-forming modules pave the way for similar mass production on other programs, notably the Wideband Gapfiller Satellite system.


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