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Boeing’s Pulse Assembly Leans Satellite Production

By | August 14, 2008
      [Satellite News 08-14-08] By bringing the pulse assembly line to Boeing’s satellite manufacturing facilities, the company intends to reduce production cycle time by 50 percent by the end of the year.
          Boeing unveiled plans Aug. 11 to change the satellite assembly operations to a pulse line system at its facility in El Segundo, Calif. The new process will move parts through 13 pulse positions, cutting down manufacturing processes and eliminating rework. To cut its production costs, Boeing will cut down personnel, according to John Duddy, director of GPS programs for Boeing and the pulse line project’s manager.
          “The process will improve quality, but with the reduction in cycle time we will reduce personnel on the assembly line,” said Duddy, who assured that the employees would be shifted to other areas depending on what is available.
          Boeing used internal and external lean experts to determine the direction of the assembly line upgrade and even got input from assembly line personnel.  “Their help was extremely valuable,” said Duddy. “It wasn’t just an engineer at a computer figuring this whole thing out. Our number one focus was on ensuring and improving quality.”
          The external lean expert Boeing went to was Shingijutsu, a Japanese production consulting company made of ex-Toyota managers that bases its manufacturing principles around the concept of what the company calls Kaizen, or to use minimum manpower, minimum equipment and minimum material to make what is needed in the quantity needed when needed. Shingijutsu was instrumental in downsizing Japanese automobile companies during Japan’s recession in the 1990s.
          The new pulse assembly line is somewhat similar to the automobile manufacturing process involving a constantly moving line. “We attach parts to the spacecraft at different stages and at some point it pulses to the next station, floating along air palettes,” said Duddy who said that this process makes it easier to know exactly where the spacecraft is in the production process.
          The line also reduces the distance the spacecraft has to travel in the manufacturing from about 3,700 meters (12,000 feet) to a little more than 3,000 (10,000 feet). “We had a very small assembly area,” said Duddy. “It was like working out of a garage where the satellite would just sit in one spot and then we would have to move it all over the place to test it. The way it is set up now is in a straight line, where it starts and ends at the opposite sides of a long room and then once it goes out the door it doesn’t come back.”
          Boeing already is using the pulse assembly line process in its other areas of production, and the first satellites to be manufactured on the pulse line will be the GPS 2F satellites Boeing is building for the U.S. Air Force. Boeing already has tested the first spacecraft to come off this type of line and is beginning construction of the second satellite.
          “We will continue to look for ways to improve this assembly process,” said Duddy. “Our next step is to look at our testing processes. We want to reduce redundancy in testing. If we do not have to test a transmitter 10 times, then we will not.”

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