Volume 04, Issue 5
Front Spars moving line on 737 Program at Renton factory sparks teamwork, efficiency
BY KATHLEEN SPICER
The value of Lean moving lines continues to be realized in the Boeing 737 Program at Renton, Wash., with the Front Spars buildup area the latest example.
Mark Blakeley, 737 Spars general manager, said there wasn't any doubt that the assembly of spars would benefit tremendously by implementing a moving production line.
"It wasn't a question of should we do it; it was a question of how it could be done," Blakeley said. "The more we learned about it, the more apparent it became that a moving line was fundamental to Lean manufacturing."
By implementing the moving front spars line, the team anticipates reducing production time by 20 percent and eliminating a day of flow time, while making the process more efficient.
Spars are approximately 56-foot-long (17-meter) aluminum structures that serve as the "backbone" that holds the ribs of the airplane wing. There are front spars and rear spars on each airplane wing. In the moving line layout, there are eight employees working on each side of the spar. Currently, the airplane's left front spar line moves at a rate of 2 inches (5 centimeters) per minute.
Creating a moving line system takes considerable research and testing—and mutual agreement by team members that it can work. Blakeley credits the 737 Front Spars team, the EIT (employee involvement team) and area support groups for staying the course, inspiring teammates and steadily making progress despite management changes.
Mary Kuennen, Wings supervisor who took the Spars team through the Lean Accelerated Improvement Workshops to implement process improvements, said ideas of how to make the line move came from "the employees who did the work every day." The area was already considered Lean, and the moving line is an example of Kaizen, or continuous improvement.
"Managers and supervisors in the area have changed. It's the employees on the team who continue to look for ways to improve the way they build spars," Kuennen said. "And, not just manufacturing employees. Areas such as Quality, Parts Control Areas and Engineering also contribute. Everyone participates."
In fact, the Front Spar EIT initiated the idea of making the front spar on a moving line. The spar build process had been put on a rail system in 2002 with the thought it would one day be a moving-line system.
The improvement process started several years ago when the sealing of 737 spars was conducted on the balcony in the 4-21 building in Renton. In 2002, the building of the spar shifted to the main floor of the 4-21 building and became known as the "continuous flow spar" line. In July 2005, the moving line was implemented.
The Rear Spar is still being manufactured in a floor assembly jig. Plans call for the jig to be removed in the next year. Once it's removed, the team will begin implementing a moving line. In addition, once the moving line for the left-hand spar is working smoothly, the team plans to move the right-hand spar onto a moving line.
"The team has put in the time it takes to make this project successful," said Rasheed El-Moslimany, Spars shop supervisor. "I've never worked with such a great group of caring people who take pride in their work and want to do the best job possible."
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