By Brian R. Hook
On a tour of Boeing Co.’s F/A-18 Super Hornet manufacturing facility near Lambert Airport in St. Louis, John Campbell, director of assembly and delivery operations for F/A-18 and EA-18 programs, shows how the company is saving millions of dollars by using lean manufacturing techniques.
Some of the techniques used to manufacture the Super Hornet include optimized installation sequences, automated drilling and installation, and laser measurements.
Boeing uses a pulse-line process for assembling, moving through pulse positions. With pulsing, the aircraft does the moving, not the workers. All of the tools are right where they are needed at each station. Two workers are able to shove the plane down the line, whereas in years past it would have taken dozens of cranes to perform the task.
“When you are in a pulse environment, you need to keep the products going. We put everybody right here on the shop floor,” Campbell says, adding that even engineers are stationed nearby just in case they are needed to reconfigure parts or processes.
The Boeing Super Hornet program, which employs approximately 4,000 people, is on track to build 45 planes this year. Campbell says the facility is
capable of manufacturing up to 56 Super Hornets a year before adding any new major tools or reconfiguring the facility.
“Our tools have been designed with our workforce in mind,” Campbell says.
Dan Korte, vice president and general manager of Global Strike Systems at Boeing, compares each station throughout the
facility to an operating room.
When a surgeon needs a scalpel, for example, the doctor does not need to leave the operating room to retrieve the device. All of the necessary tools are in the room. Likewise, at Boeing, the goal is to keep the production workers at the station.
“We don’t want them walking off the job site looking for tools,” Korte says.
“What these workers are doing on the shop floor here is absolutely critical.”
All of the supplies necessary, brought in on a just-in-time basis, are located at each station. Boeing tracks the efficiency at each station with a scoring system. To have a score of five, everything at the station needs to be within five seconds of reach. Not every station scores as well as others and Boeing keeps track of the progress over time.
“What I like about the surgeon analogy is that in an operating room the surgeon is the center of attention,” Korte says. “All of the
support people are assigned to make sure that the surgeon has everything that he needs. Everybody is serving the surgeon.”
Korte says employees are coming up with new ideas of how to make the manufacturing process more efficient. Boeing is also investing in education and training. “What really matters is the person that is putting the aircraft together,” Korte says.
The lean manufacturing process at Boeing has taken the cost of each Super Hornet down from around $85 million to around $50 million, over the life of the program, says Bob Gower, vice president of the F/A-18 and EA-18 programs. The Navy has calculated that Boeing’s F/A-18 program has saved the
taxpayer $1.7 billion.
Gower says the biggest shift for Boeing in the last 15 years is an effort to engage the brain power of everyone involved with building the F/A-18, from the machinists in the factory to the executives at headquarters. “I think all of our employees believe that if we take the cost out of the product we will sell more and we will have jobs for a longer period of time. That whole culture has been unbelievably powerful,” Gower says.
Gower compares the cultural shift to what he refers to as an adult-to-adult relationship instead of a parent-child relationship. Instead of management saying, “This is our program,” he says, the program is for every employee involved in the process.
Gower says it is important to share strategy with everyone. “Some people don’t like to share strategy, fearing that the competition will learn about it,” Gower says. “I don’t care that my competition may know, because if I can align 4,000 people who are working on this program toward the same goal, I’ll gladly take on the competition.”
The F/A-18 is a carrier aircraft for the U.S. Navy. Gower says the Navy is facing a shortfall, anywhere from 70 to 200 planes, as the Navy retires old fighter planes.
The current production schedule for the Super Hornet program is firm through 2014. Gower says Boeing is working with the Navy and with Congress to secure additional
F/A-18 procurements and extend the line. Gower says he also expects to increase
“Next year is going to be a big year for us to see if we can get another multi-year
contract that would help us extend our
production line beyond 2014 and late next year I think you will see some of the international competitions get decided,”
Along with Boeing executives, suppliers are promoting the F/A-18 to decision makers in Washington D.C. “Boeing and its suppliers have a lot of lobbying going on,” says Paul Nisbet, president of JSA Research Inc., an independent provider of aerospace research in Newport, R.I. “They are all doing what they can to promote Boeing.”
Politicians also play a role in promoting Boeing, says Richard Aboulafia, vice president of Fairfax, Va.-base Teal Group Corp., which provides aerospace research. “The Missouri delegation has done a great deal to promote sales,” Aboulafia says.
The lean manufacturing effort also helps. “It has helped the company achieve greater profitability, and it has stimulated demand by lowering cost for the customer. The customer, of course, is happy because they can afford more aircraft,”
Since St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing Co. in 1997, Boeing has remained a vital force in the St. Louis region. The total economic impact on the St. Louis region was more than $2.65 billion in 2005, according to Boeing.
St. Louis is headquarters for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, and is the largest IDS facility, with nearly 16,000 employees in the region. Some of the fighter aircraft produced in St. Louis by Boeing IDS, in addition to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, includes the EA-18G Growler, the F-15 Strike Eagle, and the T-45C Goshawk training aircraft.
The Boeing Leadership Center is also located in St. Louis. Boeing employees from around the world come to the St. Louis facility for leadership development.
Other facts about Boeing’s presence in the St. Louis region:
- Annual payroll totals nearly $1.5 billion
- Paid $1.49 billion to more than 1,800
suppliers in 2007
- Invested $440 million in improved
facilities since 2000
- Provided nearly $2.9 million in
charitable contributions in 2007
- Employees Community Fund provided $2.4 million in charitable contributions
- Employees donate more than 15,000 hours of volunteer time each year
- Boeing donates thousands of surplus items to local non-profits
“These figures tell a great story,” says George Roman, vice president, Government Relations and St. Louis Regional Executive at Boeing IDS. “We continue to
produce some of the world’s best military
platforms and we remain a vital contributor to the region’s economy.”
Team Up For High Impact Community Project
By Laurie Burstein
On a sunny day in May, more than 400 Boeing Company employee volunteers and their families came together at the Wyman Center in Eureka, Mo., for the culmination of a year-long project that made a lasting contribution to the community while building employee ownership and teamwork.
The B.E.A.T. project (Boeing Engineering Activities Trail) benefits the youth and
leadership programming at the Wyman Center in Eureka, Mo., by developing hands-on educational activities based on math,
science and engineering. The Boeing team completed six creative activity stations along a 1.6 mile trail. The stations, designed and built by Boeing volunteers, included bridge building, solar and wind power, catapults
Stacey and Stuart Morse of The Morse Group of Chesterfield led this community impact project with Boeing. The project model for Boeing was employee-designed and executed under the direction of The Morse Group.
The Morse Group worked closely with Boeing leadership to create, design and brand the project. “Our approach is very employee-driven,“ says Stacey Morse. “We work with Boeing and other companies to create high impact community projects that are much more than a one-day volunteer project, but are innovative employee-directed projects to create teamwork and ownership,” Morse explains.
Shelley Lavender and Valori B. Bring of Boeing were the project executive sponsors and say this was a great example of Boeing employees and their families demonstrating how involved they are, as individuals and as Boeing employees, in their community.
“What really sets this project apart is that it enabled Boeing employees to make a contribution that used our team’s particular talents in engineering,” says Lavender.
Lavender continues, “Our hope is that the young people who use this trail will develop an interest in math and science. We at Boeing recognize the value of math and science, and know that working in these fields can be fun. We hope that we’ll have a young employee at Boeing who first got interested in math or science by taking part in one of these trail challenge stations.”
Boeing employee Joe Waldner was a
co-leader on the project and was in charge of recruitment and publicity within Boeing.
Waldner says, “We really wanted the opportunity to demonstrate how Boeing is an engaged and active participant in our community. Having the opportunity to use the same type of skills we use to design and build the world’s most amazing defense products is doubly rewarding.”
Boeing Employees Raise Money,
By Shera Dalin
Boeing Co.’s St. Louis employees contributed $2.4 million for area charities and turned out in record numbers to help in a sweeping, one-day home renovation project for low-income residents.
The employees’ payroll deduction contributions to the Employee Community Fund increased from $2.2 million last year to
support 260 charities. It comes as the nation grapples with an economic difficulty, notes Rick Martin, Boeing’s EA-18G Program
manager, and the campaign chairperson of the ECF.
“The Boeing Team recognized the increased need due to higher energy costs and
economic uncertainties and translated it into action that exceeded all expectations,” Martin says.
Boeing pays all administrative costs for the fund so that all employee
donations go to support community efforts that feed the hungry, house the
homeless and assist in efforts to improve and
enhance the quality of life in the region. Since 1998, St. Louis ECF campaigns have raised more than $25.2 million.
Boeing employees did more than
contribute money. Some 800 employees rolled up their sleeves and turned out on a Saturday to renovate 25 homes in the area, most in the city of St. Louis. The work for Rebuilding Day ranged from painting to gutting and
rehabbing a kitchen. Rebuilding Day is organized in St. Louis by Rebuilding Together—St. Louis, which revitalizes neighborhoods in partnership with the community by rehabilitating the houses of low-income homeowners, particularly the elderly and the disabled, so that they may continue to live independently in comfort and safety.
Of that record number of volunteers, more than 150 helped renovate the Metro Homeless Center-Shalom House, a residential transitional shelter for women in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. The
volunteers added space for a computer lab and classrooms as well as making the center more livable. Some of the shelter’s residents also helped, learning skills in the process.
“It started something at Metro. Other groups have now volunteered on the project as well. It’s been pretty neat to see us get to start something and other people follow it,” says systems engineer Eliza Thompson, Rebuilding Day coordinator for Boeing. “Hopefully it will have a sustainable impact.”