April 2006 
Volume 04, Issue 11 
Commercial Airplanes

Untangling the web of wires

Fab's 'Wire Shop' integrates electrical systems value team


Employees at the Electrical Systems Responsibility Center in Everett, Wash., tackle daily duties.In the world of wires, employees from the Boeing Fabrication Electrical Systems Responsibility Center (ESRC) in Everett, Wash., have developed an aggressive set of Lean strategies for the global "wire shop" they manage for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Like untangling a web of wire, however, Leaning out a complicated supplier "value chain" isn't easy.

The people at the ESRC knew they had to start the process by taking a hard look at what it means to deliver best-value, competitive products to their customers.

The set of strategies they chose now shapes the Fabrication responsibility center's destiny as the "electrical systems integrator" for Commercial Airplanes. As an integrator, the ESRC's mission is to ensure that "total wires solutions" are delivered just-in-time shipside to final assembly. This approach gives the people who know how to build the bundles the responsibility of controlling the flow for all the wires delivered to final assembly--regardless of whether they are shipped from Boeing's factories or those of external supplier partners.

Steven Gilmore, ESRC Operations Support senior manager, said their move to lead integration of electrical systems for Commercial Airplanes is exciting because it brings together, in a closer working-together relationship, all members of their supply chain. It also challenges the Boeing Fabrication business unit of 1,350 employees to manufacture only the most critical parts and assembly solutions--and to transfer the rest of the work to capable external suppliers.

"We start with our customers' needs, and then look at what we do best. In concert with Global Partners representation, we decide how to focus both internal and external capabilities and capacity before deciding where work should be performed for manufacturing and assembling wires," Gilmore said.

Mike Brade, Global Partners manager of Electrical Systems, works with ESRC leadership to ensure Boeing's electrical suppliers are successful, including providing training to help them continuously improve their quality, efficiency and productivity.

Brade also coordinates with the ESRC to provide a continuous flow of component parts during the time when suppliers are getting up to speed.

"We are only as successful as our suppliers," Brade said. "That's why it's important for all partners in our value stream to work together toward common goals and solutions that satisfy our airplane program customers."

The ESRC's strategy as electrical systems integrator evolved from the creation of a cross-functional assessment team of employees from Fabrication Program Management, Finance, Manufacturing and Quality Assurance. They worked together to look at different business aspects of the responsibility center.

"The team said, 'Find your niche, focus Lean efforts on that niche and then work closely with the Global Partners organization to manage your supply base,'" Gilmore said. "The niche we found our customers truly need is for the ESRC to serve as a one-stop shop, where we handle issues and problems throughout the supply base."


The ESRC's manufacturing work now is focused on three product types it knows it does best. This includes critical, complex wiring components such as shelves and panels, family group assemblies, and critical spares and AOG (airplane-on-ground) items.

The team of employees at the ESRC is world-class at producing the complex wiring required for an airplane's forward instrument panel. As a result, the ESRC will keep that kind of manufacturing and assembling work, Gilmore said. By contrast, work that moves to external Boeing suppliers generally doesn't include high material content or critical lifeline electrical systems, bundles or assemblies, Gilmore added.

The ESRC recently transferred production of some of its less-complex work packages to several partners, including MATIS, a Boeing joint venture with Labinal and Royal Air Maroc in Morocco. ESRC supplier partners also include Labinal North America, Fokker-Elmo in Langfang, China, and Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing in North Dakota.

John Cornish quote"Moving work into suppliers where there is strong capability and capacity helps Boeing become more competitive while fulfilling expectations inherent in our global commercial airplanes marketplace," said John Cornish, ESRC director. At the same time, Cornish said, it creates capacity and makes room within the ESRC for complex work statements flowing in from new product development programs.

"Executing this plan has been a win-win situation for both the company and our employees," Cornish said. By late spring, he said, all previously laid-off employees who worked in the ESRC will have been recalled--and the center will be hiring and training new employees throughout 2006.

"Embracing our integrator strategy fills a niche that will benefit both Boeing and our employees in the long term," Cornish added. "By focusing on building only best-value parts and integrating the rest, we can stabilize our employment more easily, while increasing our quality and productivity dramatically. It's the kind of transformation to the Boeing Production System we're looking for to deliver better and better customer solutions."


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