October 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 6 
Commercial Airplanes

It looks easy on paper

Cut-outs on the floor are part of employee teams' culturally diverse journey toward a Lean production strategy in China


Jim Christopher Debra Kunigonis, Aaron Kotyluk and Tom Kato examine a 737 vertical fin built in China and packed for shipping in a bamboo crate.Tom Kato one day went to work at a Boeing supplier in China and cut out paper templates.

Never mind that the practice helped create a Lean workflow in a factory. The implication was clear: In the often culturally diverse journey toward Lean, sometimes you must take basic steps to get where you're going.

Kato is part of a team of Commercial Airplanes employees working with suppliers in China to build a Lean production framework that will help Boeing continue to sell airplanes in that country and around the world.

Relatively inconspicuous in what they do, the team's efforts in Lean training provide tremendous possibilities for Boeing, its employees and its Chinese suppliers. For Boeing, Lean Manufacturing can lower production costs that translate into lower airplane prices. For employees, the sale of airplanes leads to long-term company growth and job stability.

Boeing has a strategy to explore business with suppliers based on quality, the ability to meet delivery schedule, cost, intellectual capital and market access considerations-or the ability to encourage airplane sales through strategic work placement, said Jim Morris, vice president of Supplier Management for Commercial Airplanes. Any efficiency gained in manufacturing, he added, not only helps suppliers meet the quality, cost and delivery requirements of that strategy, but also can provide them more production capability and further business opportunities.

Morris emphasized to suppliers at last month's Boeing 2004 Global Supplier Conference the need to continuously improve and reach for new levels of performance.

"The success of our entire Boeing team rests on the shoulders of each of us," he said. "We are working together for our own futures . and toward a common goal of providing our customers with affordable, high-performing products and services."

In today's global economy, a diverse workforce and supplier partners are key to Boeing being agile and competitive, as well as acting with integrity, Morris said: "The competitive world of today demands nothing less than flawless execution and attention to detail."

Everyone knows how strategy sounds easy on paper-especially if it involves cutting out paper templates. The greatest challenge is achieving that strategy. That's why teams of Boeing and Chinese employees often find that using simple Lean principles and tools helps bridge cultural understanding for quick results.

Kato's experience with the paper templates occurred at Xi'an Aircraft Company, which was moving the assembly portion of work on the 737 vertical fin into a new building.


China is one of the world's fastest-growing markets for commercial jetliners. Currently, 65 percent of the jetliners operating in China were built by Boeing. Here's a look at some numbers about this market.

2,400 The approximate number of new commercial jetliners Chinese customers are expected to purchase during the next 20 years

453 Number of Boeing jetliners ordered by Chinese customers since 1972

406 Number of Boeing jetliners delivered to China through August 2004






"It provided an opportunity to set up the new factory with Lean principles," Kato said. "They needed assistance on where to put things in terms of flow, so we worked together with our resident team [and] used full-scale paper silhouettes to simulate how the factory would look."

It took a lot of work, but this event enabled employees to consider the efficient movement of parts through a work cell and adequate clearance to transport products down aisles.

"Once they could see how the equipment would look on the floor in full scale, they started thinking about how they could revise the floor plan for a more efficient and leaner flow," Kato said. "It was interesting to watch their teams suddenly get engaged and make adjustments. Thinking about things like reducing the number of times they use a crane was very significant, because of the considerable setup time."

The effort was part of taking 20 percent out of their flow time at the new building; this year the goal is to achieve another 20 percent through additional Lean improvements.

Jim Christopher has been working with the joint venture of BHA Aero Composite Parts Co. Ltd., an equal-share joint venture between Boeing, Hexcel Corp. and the Aviation Industries of China 1. He said one of the biggest cultural issues in China is convincing workers that it's acceptable to come up with innovative ideas for improvement.

"The work here in the beginning has been more about building relationships to where they can trust you enough to finally say, 'OK, here's what I think,'" he said. "Once that occurs, you have to literally get out of their way or you'll get run over by the enthusiasm."

One example includes BHA's composite finishing area, where surfaces are trimmed and prepared for painting. The team identifies areas like this as a model cell, using Accelerated Improvement Workshop tools to make improvements. The idea is to have the model cell become an example to be used throughout the factories.

"In this finishing area at BHA, the cycle times far exceeded takt times (where the pace of production matches the rate of customer demand), there was no flow, and everything was coming in and out in batches," Christopher said. "Plus, there were 18 people working on two shifts."

It took only five days to make improvements that allowed the team to cut cycle times in half and reduce the number of people to 10 on a single shift.

"Now, instead of pushing a bunch of extra parts out to the paint area, where they stack up, there is efficient flow that allows the paint area to pull parts out when they require them," Christopher said.

An added bonus for BHA is that the eight people no longer needed in the work area have been cross-trained and moved into other areas. BHA, which was hiring at the time, avoided having to add as many employees as initially planned.

Debra Kunigonis, who has responsibility for the Lean implementation strategy in China and leads the effort at Shanghai Aviation Industrial Corp., said the Chinese are masters at getting every ounce of performance out of their equipment.

"We are working with all of them on special programs to bring the maintenance of their machinery to superior levels," Kunigonis said. "In a Lean environment, a well-maintained machine will achieve the kind of efficiency you need to continually improve."

As factory production processes become leaner, fewer machines are needed, she said. If there's a breakdown in a machine, inventory is available in spare machines to quickly fix it. But the idea is to keep the machines well-maintained so their lifetime is extended and fewer problems exist.

"Machine breakdowns lead to product quality issues," Kunigonis said. "The product being machined most often is damaged, and if a machine breaks down in a flow cell, it stops everything within that cell."

Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, as with all suppliers in China, has been so motivated with Lean concepts that it established a Lean Promotion Office. Learning and teaching how to improve the factory has led to a number of achievements.

"They've basically taken the ball and run with it," said Aaron Kotyluk, who has organized one- and two-day classroom sessions on how SAC can continue to make improvements. "Each time I go back for a visit I find they have taken a suggestion and then improved on it again. It shows me that SAC understands what it is we're trying to do and that making improvements is a continual effort."

The employees working Lean issues in China claim they have a captive, eager audience with their suppliers. It also helps that Aviation Industries of China 1, the oversight organization for the government-owned companies, was exposed to and sold on Lean through a Boeing executive development program.

Still, the feeling from the team is that China understands it needs to efficiently manage its companies if it wants to remain a strong, competitive economic power. And team members say there is definitely an interest by China to be among the top producers of quality products.

"That is their motivation for Lean," Kunigonis said. "It's going to take a couple years or less before we really see results on the bottom line for each of these companies, but we know the enthusiasm is there and the improvements are visible."



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