October 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 6 
Commercial Airplanes

'Can-Do' crew does it again

'Can-Do' crew does it again

In Salt Lake City, team spirit makes difference


The 353 employees at the Boeing Fabrication facility in Salt Lake City are doing it again—a complete makeover of how they work together. Their ability to take on change and make it work for them has earned them a nickname—the "Can-Do Crew."

The Crew thrives on challenge. After their previous job of assembling MD80/90 fuselages and MD-11 bulkheads and subassemblies ended when Boeing discontinued the lines in 1998, they transformed themselves within six months into a fabrication organization specializing in manufacturing emergent-production and out-of-production spare parts.

Continuing that momentum, the Crew now is focusing on continuous improvements for the entire factory.

"Our people are highly self-motivated, and their team spirit made the difference in converting to fabrication so quickly and successfully," said Joy Romero, Salt Lake City site director. "These qualities are the foundation for our continuous improvement efforts."

Facility management is engaging the Crew in formal continuous improvement efforts by giving them the Lean tools they needed to make even more improvements in their work areas. The leadership team set improvement goals for cycle time, quality defects, cost reduction, schedule adherence and customer satisfaction—all to be achieved through having employees determine how best to meet them.

That was fine with the Crew. "We like to go try things," said Duke Helphenstine, Quality Assurance manager for the facility. "Change is a way of life for us."

As part of their process improvement, Helphenstine's team developed 20 check fixtures to measure parts against specifications. He estimates that the fixtures have saved his team 4,000 work hours by reducing inspection time from 5 minutes to 10 seconds per part, saving the factory enough to hire two more mechanics to build parts.

Garth Taylor, the "moonshine shop" coordinator for the factory, noted that getting employees involved is the fundamental principle behind Salt Lake City's commitment to continuous improvement. "The beauty of our approach is getting the person doing the work to decide what improvements should be made," he said. A moonshine shop is an informal process-development-and-improvement team focusing on simple, reliable and safe solutions that promote Lean manufacturing.

Among the innovations coming out of the Salt Lake City moonshine shop is the extrusion "chaku-chaku" line (chaku in Japanese means "load"). The line is set up in a U-shape, allowing the operator to load one piece in one machine, then go on to the next, load that one, and move on until he or she returns to the first machine in time to receive the finished part. The time to complete one rotation through the line has been reduced to 3.5 minutes. Working on one piece at a time per machine allows defects to be spotted within only a few parts. The days of having to scrap a batch of 50 parts because a defect wasn't caught in time are over.

The factory's overall continuous improvement efforts include the Focused Factory initiative led by manager Mike Eastvold. "We're securing our future by improving processes. To be competitive, this is what we have to do," he said.

The Focused Factory initiative calls for a cross-functional team to map the value stream of a representative work cell. The efficiencies they create in this cell will be applied to the entire factory, which fabricates everything from small bench assemblies to flight-control surfaces.

"With management's backing, we'll take an intelligent look at our resources and how best to use them," said Steve Heaps, the team leader for the work cell being mapped.

Bryan McCleary, senior engineer in the Salt Lake City Program Management Office, believes the Crew members have embraced continuous improvement so readily because they've "grown up" with the idea. "We've always tried hard to train across functions. It gives us the ability to see the big picture." Case in point: Michelin Riley has worked as a mechanic, quality inspector and office analyst for senior managers. She's currently a supply-chain analyst. "I have a better overall understanding of our business so I can contribute more to figuring out how to support the work cells," she said.

The Can-Do Crew really can do, Romero said: "Everyone works together for a common outcome—our customers' success."


Salt Lake City by the numbers

Number of employees at the site

Percentage of employees retained since the Boeing–McDonnell Douglas merger in 1997

Years of total aircraft manufacturing experience

Percentage of employees who began employment as mechanics and then moved into different responsibilities, carrying manufacturing knowledge with them into current positions

Number of hours of Boeing-sponsored training employees have taken so far this year

Percentage of employees who obtained degrees through the Learning Together program.


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