Boeing Frontiers
September 2003
Volume 02, Issue 05
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Main Feature

Rising with the Sun

Rising with the SunInnovation has been a hallmark of Arizona's Valley of the Sun since the first farmers arrived about 2,000 years ago. The Hohokam Native Americans built an ingenious network of 135 miles of canals that tapped the Salt River to feed their crops. Today, modern canals follow those same routes to sustain the booming Phoenix area.

Just south of the Salt River is another center of innovation: The Boeing Company's Mesa, Ariz., facility, which this year is celebrating its 20th year in operation.

Just as the Saguaro cactus, which bears the Arizona state flower, has evolved to survive in the harsh desert climate, Boeing Mesa has developed a strong blend of quality, teammate pride, Lean production; a flexible workforce and facility; and leading products that have the Mesa site positioned to continue to grow in an always competitive industry.

The plant, home to the AH-64D Apache Longbow, the Integrated Defense Systems Electrical Products Strategic Manufacturing Center, Phantom Works advanced development programs, and more, sits amid a constant buzz of aviation activity. Across the street is Falcon Field, now a busy general aviation airport but originally built as a World War II training facility. A piece of that heritage is seen and heard regularly, as the B-17 Flying Fortress Sentimental Journey flies tours out of Falcon during the cooler months of the year.

Just off the field at Falcon is MD Helicopters, spun off as a separate entity after the Boeing-McDonnell Douglas merger. The company's test flight pattern crosses directly over the Boeing site. Boeing-built airliners turn on final approach to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport over the Mesa plant, adding to the airborne symphony.

But it is the throaty rumble of the AH-64D Apache Longbow combat helicopter that is the signature sound of the Boeing Mesa site. First built expressly for Apache manufacturing, the growing site now hosts 4,000-plus Boeing teammates, designing, developing and building everything from the Apache Longbow to advanced computer simulation systems to complex electrical subassemblies to the Canard Rotor/Wing unmanned air vehicle concept.

Since opening as the Hughes Helicopters Apache plant, the Mesa site and the Apache have grown along with the surrounding community. The city of Mesa has nearly tripled in size since the plant opened. It is now the 40th most populous city in the United States, ahead of major municipalities such as Atlanta and Oakland, Calif., according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Rising with the SunApache Longbow has added an ever-growing range of capabilities, thanks to the inventive work of the Mesa team.

"For two decades we've been building not just a great helicopter, but also a team with a great blend of experience and willingness to try new things," said Al Winn, Apache Programs vice president.

"There's still a bit of frontier feeling out here," said Winn, whose footwear of choice is eelskin cowboy boots. "And, that attracts people who innovate and are always ready to ask 'Can we do it even better?'"

In August, the first Block II, Lot 7 Apache Longbows flew off to their new U.S. Army home at Fort Hood, Texas. They carry the latest digital enhancements that are paving the way for the Apache's role in the Army's Objective Force. Boeing and the U.S. Army are now working on the Block III Apache Longbow that will keep the helicopter as a key part of the force for years to come. The armed forces of 11 nations on four continents are flying, have ordered or have selected the original AH-64A Apache and AH-64D Apache Longbow.

Many of those who keep the Apache Longbow ahead of the competition brought their affection for the helicopter from years serving with it in the U.S. Army. Flight Test Engineering technicians Tim Holleran and Don Zimmerman are among them. "We work with a really good group of people," Zimmerman said. "Almost all of them came out of the military."

Rising with the SunThat try-something-new attitude reflects the one word Mesa Site General Manager Ed Koopman uses to describe the site and its employees—"flexibility."

"Both our plant and our people are able to adapt to change and even push change themselves," Koopman said. "From the talented Phantom Works engineers to our great software development team to our state-of-the-art Electrical Products Center, we are capable of developing new programs and ideas and building the latest products. That's why we have such a bright future."

Keys to promoting the flexible work environment have been the site's Lean and High Performance Work Team programs. HPWTs put greater control in the hands of front line workers "who best know the work they do," Koopman said. This allows managers to act in a more supporting role, enabling changes that improve quality and cost.

The HPWTs can take on monikers reflecting their creative input. The "Magnificent Seven," "The Late Show," "Laser Tag," and "The Leanest Link" are some examples.

More impressive than their names are the results they bring. For instance, in 2002, the Magnificent Seven faced challenges in meeting schedules. They developed their own schedule tracking system that allowed them to beat their labor target by more than 600 hours. The HPWT setup changes attitudes as well as performance. Said Maggie Aune, an electrical technician on the team: "It's the difference between coming in to work your eight hours and coming in each day and seeing how much you can advance."

Rising with the SunThe HPWTs and other improvements result in a feeling that anyone can offer up ideas for improvement. Another result is Boeing Mesa's leadership as one of the leanest manufacturing sites in the company.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was so impressed after learning about the Lean program during a plant visit in March that she asked members of the Lean team to meet with representatives of state agencies to share Boeing Mesa's best practices. "We were invited to participate and attend the monthly meeting of the Governor's Efficiency Review Team," said Janet Riley in the Lean Promotion Office. "One agency, the Department of Economic Security, asked to see how we can help with some opportunities for improvement they have."

The governor also sees Boeing Mesa success as a way to help promote the state. "It helps us send a message to the rest of the United States and the rest of the world quite frankly that Arizona is a home for technology, for engineering, for aerospace, for aviation—all those things that are only going to grow over the next decades," she told Mesa teammates. "I think we have multiple opportunities to do that pointing to the example you all have made."

Teammates at Mesa also work hard away from the plant to help strengthen the community. Engineers tutor local students in math, hoping to inspire a new generation of innovators; thousands turn out for each Good Neighbor Day; and many more give generously through the Employees Community Fund.

The size of Boeing Mesa makes it a big player in the region, but it is on the individual level where neighbors see the results. One example on Good Neighbor Day 2003 was the refurbishing of the home of a Mesa family with 10 children. In one day, teammates working with Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker, airmen from nearby Luke Air Force Base and others made a major impact on the family's daily life.

Rising with the Sun"Boeing has been a great corporate participant in this community," Hawker said. "And this effort is a perfect example of how positively a neighborhood can be impacted by the generosity of others."

While their efforts in the community have an impact close to home, teammates at Boeing Mesa understand that what they do every day at work has an impact far beyond the Sonoran Desert.

"We focus hard on our work to give our servicemen and women a good aircraft," said Santos Sanchez, a 20-year veteran with the company who builds wire harnesses for the Apache Longbow. It's a sentiment that Sanchez shares with, among others, his wife, Jill, who also builds Apache Longbow wire harnesses (they met working at the plant). "I love what I'm doing," she said. "You get a real sense of pride and accomplishment."


Front Page
Contact Us | Site Map| Site Terms | Privacy | Copyright
© 2003 The Boeing Company. All rights reserved.