April 2005 
Volume 03, Issue 11 
Integrated Defense Systems

Masters at their craft

The El Paso, Texas, IDS site builds complex electronics--and an enjoyable workplace


Masters at their craftBoeing is focusing more intently than ever on core competencies such as high-end design and systems integration. For the many products and services that do not coincide with its core competencies, the company uses a supply chain that includes smaller, specialized companies that have proven in competition that they are the best in their class.

In light of this, why does a small Boeing facility in El Paso, Texas, continue to be the company's only in-house source for complex electronics? The reason: El Paso's 395 highly skilled employees are recognized masters at their craft—building complex electronic components and subsystems for military platforms and programs at competitive cost. Recognized by Industry Week magazine as being one of the top 10 plants in the United States, the site has been designated by Boeing as the company's Strategic Manufacturing Center for electronics assemblies.

"El Paso has earned the Strategic Manufacturing Center designation by maintaining industry-leading capabilities while helping Boeing stay competitive," said Jim Albaugh, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems president and CEO. "The innovation, technological leadership, commitment to quality and employee involvement found at the site mark El Paso as a world-class operation."

"What makes a great manufacturing plant? Efficient processes, talented people and strong leadership. The El Paso facility has all three," said George Muellner, senior vice president and general manager of IDS Air Force Systems.

B-1 beginnings

The El Paso facility began in 1983 as a feeder plant supporting production of the U.S. Air Force's B-1B bomber. Over the years, the El Paso–area workforce has proved an excellent talent pool, providing technical, administrative and high-rate production expertise.

Today, the facility supports programs for NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy, and commercial space-related programs. The El Paso team builds circuitry components for the seeker of the PAC-3 missile system, power management components for the International Space Station, power supply conditioning modules for the F/A-22 Raptor and cockpit/interface avionics for the F-15 Eagle. They also assemble and test the Minuteman III missile guidance system.

El Paso by the numbers

$5 million
Reduction in overhead costs last year. This effort helped lead to a rate decrease of 5 percent.

Percentage of customer-satisfaction ratings in the last seven months of 2004 that were blue (highest) or green (second highest).

Year in which El Paso facility began operations, as a feeder plant supporting production of the U.S. Air Force's B-1B bomber.

"When it comes to electronics needs, we want every program across Boeing to immediately think 'El Paso,'" said Plant Manager Rene Vargas. "We're here to stay, we're positioned for new growth, and we want Boeing business."

To attract new work, Vargas and his leadership team have worked hard to maintain competitive work rates. Last year, they began consolidation of three buildings into one, off-loaded work that did not fall within the site's core capabilities, reduced overhead costs by $5 million, and reduced capital assets by $6 million.

These efforts helped bring a 5 percent rate decrease. In 2004, the site's customer ratings on the satisfaction chart for cost, quality, schedule, cycle time and teamwork were 99 percent blue (highest) or green (second highest). For the last seven months of 2004, ratings were 100 percent blue or green.

Vargas is quick to acknowledge that strategic decisions made at the executive level are only a part of what's helped El Paso survive tough economic realities. "It's the pull-together mentality of our employees that really characterizes this facility," he said.

"I've been here 20 years," said Robert Kimball, a manufacturing engineering planner, "and the El Paso site has been like a home away from home. There is so much pride in our facility and the quality of work we accomplish. We truly believe we stand out above the rest."

Workmanship ... and camaraderie

Indeed, when you walk through the pristine factory, you get a strong sense of the pride, workmanship, camaraderie and tightly knit relationships that permeate the site.

Employees are friendly, accessible and easy to relate to. Although they are performing highly complex tasks at work, you can just as easily picture them away from the job playing soccer with kids, enjoying a family picnic during a summer evening concert, or shopping on a Saturday afternoon at the colorful open air markets on the streets of nearby Juarez, Mexico.

As much as Vargas gives credit to his employees, he is known for his hands-on role in creating and maintaining an enjoyable workplace environment. Vargas isn't one to sit in his office and detach himself from the workforce.

"Whether the employee event is a 'Coffee with the Boss' session, a Boeing Night baseball game, an employee picnic, or a Mardi Gras parade, Rene and his management team are out there participating—cooking hamburgers, throwing water balloons, mingling with and getting to know employees," said Human Resources Generalist Nora Villalobos.

The Boeing site is known for its enthusiastic support of community activities. Last year, The city of El Paso selected the site as a "company of the month" for its outstanding support of volunteer programs and donations to the community.

Not only does the facility support local nonprofit organizations, but employees also raised money for various medical causes. They also painted and spruced up elders' homes, donated clothing for men and women in shelters, and brightened the winter holiday period with toys for more than 100 underprivileged children. Nearly 150 kids got off to a good start of the school year in the fall with new backpacks full of supplies donated by employees.

"As much as they give on the job, employees are just as generous off the job when it comes to giving a helping hand," said Human Resources/Security Manager Debra Koch.



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