Lean Manufacturing Takes Flight at Vought Aircraft

Merlin Fechner, general manager of Vought Aircraft’s Milledgeville, Ga. facility, describes continuous improvement as a journey in which there is no end. In 2006, the aerospace industry supplier sought assistance from Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute with its lean management principles, a set of tools widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations.

“As part of the continuous improvement journey, it’s good to get outside eyes to come in and look at what we’ve been doing for a really long time,” Fechner said. “The lean specialists at Georgia Tech are seasoned veterans who have been in manufacturing and understand it, and they did a really great job for us.”

Alan Barfoot, the central Georgia region manager for the Enterprise Innovation Institute, along with lean specialists Danny Duggar, Paul Todd and Bob Wray, visited the 610,000-square-foot facility to determine how the company could maximize efficiency. Vought Aircraft employs 550 people in Milledgeville – including 350 highly skilled mechanics – who make parts for aerospace companies such as Boeing, Airbus, Northrop Grumman, Gulfstream and Sikorsky. Last year, Vought’s Milledgeville site business profile was 65 percent commercial and 35 percent military.

Led by the Georgia Tech team, Vought employees learned about lean concepts such as standardized work, visual signals, batch-size reduction and pull systems, among others. They also experienced how lean improves quality, reduces cycle time, improves delivery performance, and reduces work-in-process and inventory.

The team also conducted a week-long kaizen event on the CF6 translating cowl, part of an aircraft’s thrust reverser. Kaizen, or rapid improvement, is a focused activity on a particular process or activity that identifies and quickly removes waste. The team developed value stream maps, which are diagrams used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer.

“CF6 translating cowls are acoustically treated, so they act like a muffler when they’re landing to reduce the noise. That’s a special proprietary process for Vought,” noted Steve Comer, Vought’s industrial engineering manager. “CF6 processes start with fabrication that shapes the honeycomb core. Subsequently, the composite parts are formed in molds, heat laminated, trimmed, inspected, assembled and painted in this factory.”

In late 2007, the Georgia Tech team returned to Vought to analyze product coming into the facility for parts on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. They measured the total area, including new and existing square footage, parts and tool travel. Barfoot assisted with evaluating parts and equipment, creating databases and designing a layout for more than 1,000 different parts and multiple processes.

“They identified a lot of issues that we were able to work on and we implemented needed changes to optimize our production on the program. The teams’ engagement and enthusiasm for improvement on that product was very obvious to our customer,” observed Fechner. “As a result, we’ve now positioned ourselves to pick up the additional work, right-sized, into the value stream as we’ve laid it out with Georgia Tech.”

Fechner estimates that as a result of collaborating with Georgia Tech, Vought has significantly reduced its investment in capital expenses.

“Georgia Tech provided skilled expertise that was successful in delivering both plans and the analysis in a timely manner,” Fechner said. “This work permitted acquisition of substantial new business that will bridge us well into the future.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

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Writer: Nancy Fullbright

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