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Time-Based Manufacturing

 

PART IV. 

 

To take on the larger battle of reducing engine overhaul lead time, six employee Task Groups, or teams, were established. These teams consisted of about five or six Engine Shop mechanics and technicians, as well as engineering and quality staff. Each team was assigned a specific segment of the overhaul process:

• engine disassembly

• module disassembly

• clean and inspect

• parts repair

• module assembly

• engine assembly and test

The team's task was to develop plans for streamlining the activities within their segment of the overall process. To complete this task, the teams followed a structured 12-week

Process Improvement plan that consisted mainly of understanding the current overhaul process, collecting relevant data and process information (such as current lead times, process routings, etc.), analyzing to determine root causes of existing problems and delays, and developing solutions and plans for improved operations.

Prior to starting this 12-week process, all Engine Shop employees (about 300) were provided with a two-hour overview of JIT and the specifics of the improvement process. Although this required considerable effort, it helped considerably to ease people's concerns about the improvement process (how is this going to affect me?) and to partially overcome people's built in resistance to organizational change. As well, the Task Groups and team leaders received additional training in JIT, the Improvement Process, problem solving techniques, team dynamics, and other relevant topics.

Launching the Main Offensive!

After considerable preparation, the teams launched their 12-week war against lead time. The teams got together each week for a meeting lasting about two hours, and spent an additional two hours outside of the meeting working on individual assignments.

While ultimately successful, the teams ran across some difficulties over the 12 weeks, including: wanting to jump ahead to solutions without first doing the required data collection and process analysis; and getting side-tracked from the main goal of reducing lead time. As well, several of the teams lost some enthusiasm and energy for going after further lead time improvement after initial solutions were proposed.

Overcoming these obstacles required that the team facilitator strongly reinforce the original battle objectives and the structured 12-week process. This kept the teams focused on the prime objective, and provided a framework for doing the necessary process analysis that is essential for getting to the root cause and for developing best solutions. Additionally, the consulting resources utilized to guide the overall improvement process consistently challenged the teams to develop better and better solutions. Management realized that the Engine Shop employees, while key to the success of the improvement process, were not experienced process analysts or JIT implementers, and that they required strong technical support.

The teams that performed particularly well did a very thorough job of defining the current process, determining current performance, and setting specific goals. Conversely, the teams that tended to get off-track were those that made assumptions about how work currently was done, and that did not agree on set lead time reduction targets.

At the end of the 12-week Improvement Process, the teams presented their findings to senior management (this further proved management's commitment to improvement, as it was unheard of before this project to have shop floor employees making presentations to senior level management!). At these meetings, the teams asked for approval and, if required, funds to proceed with their improvement plans. At the end of each meeting, the Vice-Presi-

dent signed the authorization to proceed or, in one case, asked for more information and analysis. Again, strong commitment to the improvement process was further exemplified by the immediate feedback provided by senior management.

Without this fast and decisive response, the momentum built up among the teams and other shop employees would have been put at serious risk. In this instance, however, this organization began a process of continuously preparing and launching new task groups to tackle other problems and issues that, three years later, continues to generate solid benefits.

The Rewards of Victory

As a result of the efforts of these six teams, the lead time for overhaul of JT8 engines was reduced from 90+ days to about 48 days. As well, very significant inventory reductions (both engine and parts) were achieved. This level of lead time and cost improvement, combined with other performance improvement efforts throughout the maintenance operations, also enabled the airline to capture greater contract engine repair work, including a contract to overhaul engines for key U.S. Government aircraft (they could overhaul these engines faster and at a lower cost than the original engine manufacturer!).

In addition to these direct benefits, this initial lead time reduction effort (combined with a similar effort for aircraft overhaul) led to the continuous launching of further task groups to tackle other problems and issues. This continuous improvement approach and the adoption of time-based operations continues to this day.

Summary

Time-Based Management is an effective approach for achieving very significant reductions in lead times and cost, and for achieving overall improved operating performance. Successful implementation requires that a strategic direction or focus be in place to drive the overall improvement effort, and that specific improvement targets be established. As well, considerable attention must be paid to preparing the organization to effectively cope with significant organizational change.

Finally, the employee Task Group is the engine that drives the improvement process. As with jet engines, the employee teams require considerable set-up, testing, and maintenance to effectively operate. Given the proper level of support, however, these teams can, and do, achieve exceptional results.


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