December 2004/January 2005 
Volume 03, Issue 8 
Special Features

Join together

How engineers, production people are getting better results by working side by side.


Jim Morales and Jeff Bertel working under the nose of the F/A-18 Super Hornet with its gun bay door openWhen people talk about engineers "throwing a design over the wall" to the shop floor, it's usually in the past tense.

In recent years, the walls that traditionally have separated Engineering from Production have been tumbling throughout Boeing. Now, the talk is about cooperation, teamwork and partnerships-working together, side by side, for a common goal. Today, Engineering and Production employees freely share information and work space in a mutual drive to improve design and manufacturing of their products.

Efforts to establish and improve partnerships between Engineering and Production are in place in just about every program at Boeing. Some have been around for several years while others are in their early stages. Two examples that illustrate how this is being done are Integrated Defense Systems' F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program in St. Louis and Commercial Airplanes' Move to the Lake project in Renton, Wash.

Here are their stories: >>>>


There's a saying around the Super Hornet program: "The airplane is the boss." It means that the program's operating principles are dictated by what's the right thing to do for the aircraft rather than what functions people perform.

Integrated Product Teams take responsibility for specific sections of the aircraft and function as businesses within a business. They deal with day-to-day issues of getting parts from suppliers, maintaining quality, and meeting schedules and budgets. An individual integrated product team includes Engineering, Supplier Management and Production employees.

There also are 34 High Performance Work Organization teams, which are self-directed Production teams for specific F/A-18E/F subsections. The HPWO teams schedule their work, are responsible for their quality and safety, administer their budgets, set their goals and chart their progress using business metrics. Support engineers are often members of HPWO teams.

Production employees on the original F/A-18E/F design teams in 1991 helped determine where systems and parts would be located on the aircraft. Later, Engineering and Production employees worked together to transition the Super Hornet design to the shop floor.

"I think it's been a way of life for us to have Engineering teams work with Production teams," said Dan Schell, superintendent of Assembly for the F/A-18E/F. Indeed, Schell said, Engineering and Production people worked together on teams from initial concept all the way through the build on late 1980s programs such as the YF-23 and the A-12. That process "translated well into the startup of the E/F program" in the mid 1990s, Schell said. "As we moved the design to the floor, we took those teams and collocated them in the production environment."

Kim Declue, general foreman of the E/F forward fuselage, remembers that time as one of significant change. "It was the first time Production had some real say in what the end design would look like," Declue said. "Now, it's nothing for a design engineer to go right out to the shop floor, grab the guy who's doing the job and say, 'Look, I know you've got this problem, let's talk about it.'"

An overhead look at the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet ?nal assembly areaMore recently, the E/F forward fuselage was redesigned to reduce parts by 40 percent and fasteners by 25 percent. Declue cites it as a great example of Engineering-Production cooperation. The cost "went down so fast it was just astounding," he said.

Engineers on the Super Hornet program are located just minutes away from the shop floor. In the final assembly building-Building 67-engineers are either in offices that adjoin the shop floor or in mezzanine sections that overlook it. New flight-ramp and paint facilities (Buildings 75 and 78, respectively) near Building 67 have offices that place engineers close to the product.

From the start, being close to the product and to the shop floor is what F/A-18E/F engineers have wanted. "It's understood throughout the Engineering organization that our goal is to be partnered with Production," said Jeff Riedel, manager of the F/A-18E/F Assembly Support Team. "I think there's also a sense in our leadership that working together-Production and Engineering-is the key to success, and I think we do it."

Throughout its history, the Super Hornet program has maintained a consistent record of being at or below design weight, on or ahead of schedule, and within or below budget. The program has implemented numerous Lean and cost-reduction initiatives, and teams measure their performance through a common set of metrics.

It's hard to quantify how much the Engineering-Production partnership contributes to the program's success, but it's certainly a factor, said Bob McDaniel, E/F Wing general foreman: "When you look at the support engineers, they don't say they only do manufacturing engineering work, or quality engineering work. They all buy in to their team's agenda and they all do what it takes to get the job done. They have a common goal and they all do what's best for the airplane and their teams."

David Essick and Steven Jung consult with John Tschannen about a 737 galleyRENTON, WASH.: MOVE TO THE LAKE

In September 2004, the Commercial Airplanes site at Renton completed the move of nearly 3,000 Engineering, Finance and Program Management employees from remote offices and buildings to upgraded work spaces in four main buildings near Lake Washington. The biggest change is in Buildings 4-81/82-home of 737 and, until recently, 757 final assembly -where Engineering and Production employees are now collocated.

Engineers' offices in 4-81/82 are in towers overlooking final assembly areas. The office areas are separated from factory space by a translucent wall with windows, so that people in the offices can see the product at all times. The offices occupy space that formerly was used for parts.

"When we created the new office space here, we wanted to make sure that the folks coming out into these new spaces always were connected to the product," said Mark Garvin, program manager for the Move to the Lake project. "So we've used a lot of glass and transparent materials, and there are a lot of large openings in the walls. In our architecture, we are exposing the occupants to the sights, sounds and feelings of what's going on down on the factory floor."

The layout also puts engineers closer to shop floor employees. "We've created a lot of ways for Engineering employees and Production workers to bump into each other and get to know each other," Garvin said. "The whole point of what we're trying to do is get people who had been working in other buildings right next to each other. We've talked about this project as being a people project, not a facilities project."

The project's leaders have compiled data, based on a 2002 pilot project and the program's first official moves from earlier in 2004, that indicate the move has done what they had hoped: get Engineering and Production employees working more closely together.

"What we've found is that the groups that moved here first and made efforts to break down barriers are doing well," said Garvin. "It's like a grassroots revolution is happening. People on the shop floor and the engineers are just finding each other and building relationships. We find mechanics now who go right up to design engineers and say, 'Hey, I need your help,' and the engineers come down and off they go."

That's the way it was recently for 737 interior mechanics Bruce Bartlett and John Tschannen. They encountered a problem while changing some components for the 737 windscreen. Tschannen went up to the Engineering offices and found the right windscreen engineers. "I brought them down, showed them our problem and they worked out a drawing change. It took an hour or less," Tschannen said.

In the current arrangement, "you develop a better relationship with the engineers. It's more one-on-one," said Bartlett.

employees gather on the 737 production lineLarry King, a 737 process engineer in the Manufacturing Engineering Group, also finds that being close to the shop floor (he's three floors above it) helps his work. "It's a lot easier to deal with problems," he said. "We can't walk to other offices without going through the factory. We're able to get to the mechanics without having to do a 15-minute walk each way. We're right there."

Move to the Lake came about after the Renton site's 10-85 office building was severely damaged by an earthquake in February 2001. During a weekend, 1,250 employees were relocated from the 10-85 building into new work spaces in and adjacent to the site. That move gave site leaders the impetus to place product designers and support employees side by side with Production workers in a streamlined environment.

The move is attracting interest. "I've been told that organizations like [Human Resources] and Finance are bringing potential new hires through our facility," Garvin added. "We can use this site now as a recruiting tool. It's our showroom. And hey, it's really cool."


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