September 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 5 
Commercial Airplanes

Living in a material world

'One part-one touch' concept for parts, tools cuts costs, time


Curtiss Robertson unloads floor panels onto a 737 from a specially designed cartCraig Jungbluth can attest to the success of the Materials Management Integration initiative in Commercial Airplanes. As a team leader for mechanics in 777 Final Assembly in Everett, Wash., he's learned about Lean concepts and has experienced the benefits firsthand.

"I believe in the direction we're going; I've seen it work," said Jungbluth. "Our process gets better with every airplane we work on."

Jungbluth is referring to an effort that began in 1999, "when the Commercial Airplanes Material Management community began working together on leveraging collaborative Lean processes, partnerships and technology to replace inventory with information," said John Daniels, director of Manufacturing Support in Everett. In the factory, this translates to improvement in the flow of materials, such as tools, parts and shop supplies.

"Today, we're more connected than ever with the Manufacturing customers we serve," said David Huntsman, Materials Management process leader in Renton, Wash. "Our focus is to get materials to the airplane in the most efficient and cost-effective way, so that when a mechanic reaches for a part or a tool, he or she finds exactly what's needed, when and where it's needed."

Dave Nelson, Materials Management senior manager in Everett, said that it's all part of the "one part-one touch" philosophy, where there's a seamless flow of materials to the airplane.

"Everything we do in Materials Management is designed to be Lean," said Nelson. The team's working together to reduce inventory, standardize kitting and improve point-of-use stations, he said.

Since Lean implementation, warehouse inventory in the Puget Sound has been reduced by more than 70 percent, and the inventory turn rate is 2.5 times faster. In Long Beach, Calif., inventory costs have been reduced by 54 percent, and the inventory turn rate is 4.5 times faster. Similarly, the warehouse inventory in Wichita, Kan., has been reduced by 35 percent, and the inventory turn rate is twice as fast.

By streamlining processes, the number of transactions to perform jobs has been significantly reduced. That creates "a tremendous amount of savings for the company," Nelson said, along with less waste and disruption to the production schedule.

Such savings are evident in 777 Final Assembly, where fairing panels and access doors are installed. Here, the number of unique parts required to perform jobs has been reduced from 1,033 separate issues to 120 kits equipped with materials to perform the job. This translates into a reduction in transactions performed from 32,023 to 3,720.


Certainly, change doesn't take place without some challenges.

"We are asking employees to change the way they have been doing business for years, and that makes all of us uncomfortable to some degree," said Tommy James, Materials Management in Wichita. "But most employees recognize the need to improve and have been willing to help make this effort successful."

Garry Jefferies, Parts Control Organization supervisor in Everett, said that the new way of doing things in Materials Management is still a culture change for employees, but added that the employees who are "on board with Lean" are more productive and better equipped for their jobs.

"We try to give our customers what they need as fast as we can," said Jefferies. "When we put together kits for mechanics, we arrange the parts, tools and other items they need in a logical picking sequence, which saves them time. Kits are also mobile for easy transport to the airplane and are ergonomically safe."

Cindy McKneely, store keeper in Everett and part of Jefferies' team, said she believes that "working smart" is the right thing for the company. "When we work more efficiently it's less work for everyone," said McKneely. "Once people grab hold of that understanding, they really begin to see the benefits of a Lean operation."

In some areas, the benefits took longer to surface. Priscilla Richards in Production Control in Renton said the new Lean process required an improved focus on accuracy and took several process revisions in order to provide the materials her customers requested.

"It took time to figure it out," said Richards. "But our methods have proven to be the best way to get things done."

Victoria Hurlock, 737 Materials Management supervisor in Renton, said that kitting and kit replenishment cells have significantly contributed toward job efficiency. Kitting cells are u-shaped areas in the factory (arranged by flow days) where job carts and bins are replenished with parts, tools and consumables to assemble airplanes, and then re-staged for next-shift use.

Hurlock said mechanics used to spend about 30 percent of their time gathering materials from various areas in the factory to do their jobs. Not any more. "Everything they need is within an arm's reach, so they work more efficiently with fewer interruptions and downtime," she said.

A big part of the Materials Management Integration involves decentralizing materials received into Boeing and working with suppliers to streamline processes on both sides. Wendell Ihmels, who works in the local receiving area in Everett, said his team provides better service to customers since changes have been made.

"When before it may have taken two weeks to move a product through the system, it now takes one to three days," said Ihmels. One example: His team's UPS deliveries would arrive in central receiving before coming to the warehouse. Now, the products come directly, eliminating the time needed to sort and redistribute.

Similarly, in the Renton factory, floor panels would arrive in narrow, flat boxes on pallets that took more than three hours to unload and organize for assembly. Now panels are delivered on service-ready carts with minimal packaging and are delivered as they're needed.

"The new delivery method eliminates the time it takes to open boxes, recycle huge foam packing pieces and sort through blueprints," said Jeff Sodorff in Parts Control Area receiving, Renton. "The panels are prearranged in aft, middle and forward airplane sections that correspond to our assembly sequence, which easily saves hours of preparation."


There's no doubt that applying Lean principles and techniques in Materials Management results in benefits across the entire value chain.

"Our future is predicated on continuous improvement," said Joe Kossler, Materials Management in Long Beach. "Lean principles provide the foundation to an efficient business with a competitive edge."

Candace Lydston, Renton Materials Management team leader, said, "Materials Management employees are more productive, more proactive and more involved in process improvement than ever before."

For employees like Caryle Johnson, Parts Control Area in Renton, the new system has been a learning process. "After the challenge of making changes and learning more about the benefits of an integrated process, I thought 'this works-and, it isn't so bad after all!'" said Johnson.


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