April 30, 2015
Boeing increases its production policy reliance on car industry practices
Boeing currently has to deal with two major pressures – an increased number of orders, and competition from rival Airbus. Traditionally, airplane order numbers, when combined with levels of customization, meant that car industry manufacturing processes were predominantly inapplicable or inappropriate. However while Airbus already have a number of staff at senior level who have been recruited from the auto industry, Boeing are now relying even more heavily on their Vice President of Manufacturing and Safety, Walter Odisho. Odisho was recruited from auto giants Toyota where he oversaw the whole of their US$6bn plant in Kentucky before moving to Boeing in December 2013. This is the first time Odisho has spoken out in the 18 months since he joined the company, but it is becoming clear that he has been spending much of his time creating plans for the future of manufacturing at Boeing.
Boeing has long been a follower of Toyota lean manufacturing process, but Odisho has been hired to delve more deeply into creating a greater automated manufacturing process with particular attention being paid to the use of robots in a push towards ‘Advanced Manufacturing,’ saying “The idea of achieving significant savings in a single action is a fallacy. We’ll take the opportunities and when you add them all up together, I think they will amount to quite significant improvements.” He then went on to say that “If you look at aerospace with market demand rising, we need to start thinking differently and move efficiencies from the auto industry into this arena.” Only last month Boeing commenced automating the assembly of 737 wing panels and the introduction of robots on the 777 to which Odisho commented “I think we are beginning the journey.”
Changes in the manufacturing processes are moving more towards what one would expect to find in a factory environment, one which Odisho observes like a choreographer. “Think of it as a robot. Because robots are automated they can go through many types of motion that are wasteful. But in order to utilise robots correctly we need to be thoughtful about the movements that their arms make.
“If we can apply the same thinking (to the factory)… then we can affect the process to a high degree,” he said. As an example, Odisho is pushing for a new look at the flow of parts.
“If we can develop a system where we have direct deliveries to our lines and in an orientation which our operators will use to simply secure instead of handling parts, we have tremendous opportunities,” he said, indicating that “a clean-sheet design for a 21st-century aircraft plant would weave a single thread from the drawing board to the parts bin on the factory floor.”
Odisho continued: “I would look at material flow, I would look at processes, I would look at the design of the airplane with people in mind – how the work would be performed. I would design the airplane with specific areas of automation in mind.” Odisho’s aim would seem to be to see the reduction time of holding parts reduced from what to many would seem an acceptable couple of days reduced down, literally, to a couple of hours.