September 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 5 
Commercial Airplanes

All aboard!

All aboard!

Front Spars moving line on 737 Program at Renton factory sparks teamwork, efficiency


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.

Why make it move?

A moving line
• Is the most powerful production tool in the world to find and eliminate waste.
• Puts the whole factory on the same pace (including support). Everybody can see the pace and act accordingly.
• Drives urgency for everyone, not merely those building the product.
• Forces standardization of processes and ensures quality.
• Causes problems to be visible to everyone and requires immediate response to issues.
• Demands discipline: Parts, supplies, equipment, information and support must be where you need them.
• Drives reduced in-process inventory.
• Has everyone continually looking for ways to improve their processes, products and service.
• Reinforces the fundamentals of Lean Manufacturing.

Source: Boeing Lean shop, Renton, Wash.

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."

Moving forward: How one group tackled Lean implementation

Moving forward: How one group tackled Lean implementation

One of the main challenges surrounding the implementation of Lean methods is getting people comfortable with change. "People need to understand why you're doing it," said Rasheed El-Moslimany, Spars shop supervisor at the Boeing site in Renton, Wash., which recently put in place a Lean moving line.

One way to build consensus for change is to bring people into the process in small groups. "That way it's coworkers, not managers, talking about the idea to others because they've seen the results; they've seen it work," said El-Moslimany.

Richard Harris of the Spars team said the team is trying hard to make the moving production line work. Since the new method involves learning new job responsibilities, processes are still being defined, he said.

"Our support cells have been there to help us, which has been critical to implementation," Harris said. Since first starting Lean improvements, the team "is on schedule, produces high quality and has a low overtime rate of 2 percent," Harris added. "We're hoping to continue this trend with the moving line."

Sharon Boulanger, whose group seals spars once they're constructed, stressed the importance of working together and having a commitment to common goals for a new process to be successful. "With a moving line production system, you have to be able to rely on your coworkers to do their part before you can do yours. It's takes a lot of support, trust and faith in your fellow employees to make it all work," Boulanger said.

Having management visible and approachable also is essential. "Management has been extremely supportive. I feel lucky to be a part of this team," Boulanger said.

—Kathleen Spicer


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