February 2006 
Volume 04, Issue 9 
Commercial Airplanes

Four hour power

Four hour power

Materials Management employees ready to get parts to customers—fast


Four hours, end to end.

That's a new vision from Commercial Airplanes' Material Management organization, formerly known as Spares. It means that from the time a Boeing airplane operator contacts Material Management for an airplane part until the time the part is sitting on the Boeing loading dock ready to be shipped shouldn't take any longer than four hours.

That's quite a challenge. Delivering spare parts is a vast and complex undertaking. Boeing keeps more than half a million different types of parts in inventory at sites in Europe, the Middle East, the Asia/Pacific region, and the Americas. Detailed part numbers are required to ensure that the right part goes to the right airplane. And airplanes can be located anywhere in the world when they need a part. But it's an important initiative to help bolster Commercial Airplanes' customer-support capabilities—which in turn makes Boeing more competitive in the jetliner market.

When it comes to shipping parts, speed is critical, especially in an AOG (airplane on ground) situation. Every hour that an airplane isn't flying, it's losing its operator money.

"I've already talked to our airline customers all around the world about our four-hours-end-to-end vision. They were astounded and intrigued," said Mark Owen, vice president, Material Management, Commercial Aviation Services. "Everyone recognized immediately that it would really change their business."

Value of Lean

How is Commercial Airplanes going to deliver on this commitment? The same way they cut in half the time it took to build a 737: by getting Lean.

Lean manufacturing techniques harness the power and creativity of the people who perform the work, turning their talents to identifying ways to improve processes, eliminate waste and reduce cycle time.

The process of delivering parts to after-market customers will be broken into smaller parts, or cells. Workshops where multifunctional teams of employees look for lean solutions and ways to improve their processes will take place at the cell level.

"We give participants a clear charter," said Mary Dowell, Material Management director of Lean. "After some training in Lean principles, they begin with looking at the existing process and taking the waste out of it by rethinking their processes so they can respond to customers more effectively."

Jack Vander Molen, first-responder cell leader in Long Beach, Calif., participated in an October 2005 workshop for the Material Management employees who are first contacted by a customer in need of a part. These initial requests come in by fax, phone, e-mail, telex, or even face-to-face contact when an airline mechanic somewhere in the world walks over to talk to a Boeing field representative.

"It was great," Vander Molen said of his experience. "Our charter was to improve response time to customers and respond with tangible information within 30 minutes."

After the Lean training, which included a visit to the 737 line, the participants got to work. They determined which disciplines needed to be involved in first response. They also came up with new seating arrangements that put those same people—who need to communicate with each other—in the same area.

It all happened quickly, Vander Molen said. "I finished the workshop on Friday, reported out on Monday, and Tuesday we relocated the whole team to one area." Soon after, they were also removing a wall. They changed seating arrangements so the team members are in a circle, facing each other. This eliminates getting up and walking around to confer.

The configuration change occurred at Material Management sites in both Long Beach and the Puget Sound region of Washington state. This process of standardization is another way the organization intends to make its vision a reality.

Vander Molen said the team is now also using visual aids to let people know instantly and nonverbally exactly what's going on. Remember the classic child's stacking toy with different-size plastic donut-shaped circles on a stick? That's used to show up-to-the-minute workload status.

Across all cells

Cell by cell, the 2,000-member Material Management organization is determined to streamline its processes and make the four-hours-end-to-end vision a reality by its scheduled implementation in 2007.

"We've got a real clear vision. Now, all ideas for improvement, no matter how small they might seem, are going to be looked at seriously," said Dan Price, procurement manager of Vendor-Proprietary Spare Parts in Puget Sound, about the initiative. "Everyone will work together more than they ever have before. For me, it's all about the people."

Lou Givan, lead of the Puget Sound first responder team, said the Lean thinking has made a big difference for her work group. "It's made us challenge the way we do things today and ask a lot of 'why' questions," she said. Of the eventual four-hours-end-to-end goal, she said, "We still have barriers to overcome, but I don't have any doubt we'll get there."

But that could be just the beginning.

When Material Management VP Owen told customers about the Lean approach to getting parts to customers, some of them said they'd like to make their part of the process leaner too. To which Owen said he responded: "We'd be happy to share what we learn with you."


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