Friday, January 05, 2007
Lean Manufacturing at Boeing
The last couple of months have been tremedously busy for me. That's great from a working point of view however the lack of blogging has been a negative side effect. I will attempt to get back on track and share some of the great things I have seen and learned as I continue on my lean journey.
For the first week of 2007, I am working in Seattle, Washington. Fortunately, I made some free time to visit the Boeing Assembly plant in Everett. I specifically wanted to see for myself some of the lean improvements at Boeing that I have been reading about, like the moving 777 assembly line.
What an amazing manufacturing operation! First off, this plant is by far the largest manufacturing plant I have ever seen. That makes sense for a company with 23,000 employees on site making products like jumbo jets but once you stand in this plant, the huge size simply stuns you. This factory is over 98 acres under one roof, totaling 4.3 million square feet. Just image 911 basketball courts! The ceiling stands 9 stories tall and even the hanger doors are huge-almost the size of a football field!
More amazing for me than the sheer physical size of the plant, is seeing the manufacturing operation of a jumbo jet in person. Even though I just got to see a glimpse of the assembly process, I can appreciate the complexity of the task. The 747 has over 6 million parts and the 777 has 3 million parts. I was told it takes over four months once the parts arrive to build one jumbo jet with a takt time of about one jet every 3 days off the line.
The 777 assembly line was set up as a moving line in September 2006 however for some reason it was not in operation this week. That was a disappointment for me. My tour guide could not provide any details why it was not working. At the end of the line, a huge takt time clock was on display that could be easily seen across the 1/3rd of a mile long assembly line. The best that I could see, everything was on casters from the platforms to the material handling carts. Most of the carts, racks and assorted stations were built with Kaizen pipe. Very little material was stored on the line and all the parts seemed placed in specific floor locations. It also appeared that engineers and other management personal had workstations on the assembly platforms right next to the jets.
Although you could definitely see the progress of a company on a lean journey, like most of us, Boeing still has a long way to go. The work pace appeared downright calm for what I am accustom to seeing in other manufacturing operations. It also appeared that a terrific amount of walking back and forth by employees took place. Boeing has a tough task of pacing work within a 3 day takt time and I did not see any visual indication if that was being monitored or established as standard work.
Unlike what I saw at Toyota, I did not see any problem solving process systems in place for quick reaction at Boeing. Some of you may think that with a 3 day takt time, an andon type rapid response system is not needed. First and foremost, problems need to be seen and not hidden so they can be fixed. The point is to improve the process to fix the problem instead of repeatedly dealing with a problem. It would be way too easy to hide a problem in a 3 day takt time.
Despite what I observed as areas for improvement, the Boeing operation was very cool to see in action. To be fair and accurate to Boeing's lean initiative, if any of you know more about these particular issues and can provide additional insight on how these issues are addressed, I would love to hear about them.
In addition to the 777 line, I looked over the assembly area being set up for the brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner set for production in 2008. It was easy to see that the lean lessons learned on the 777 and 747 lines will be incorporated into the new 787 assembly line. I can't wait to revisit Boeing in 2008 to see the Dreamliner in operation.