Lean Manufacturing In Aerospace

Lean Manufacturing Topic of the Day: Lean Aerospace

Lean Manufacturing in Aerospace… and

What Makes Lean Aero Unique?

The truth is “Lean is Lean” and applies in all industries that we have ever encountered.  Sure, we always wonder if maybe (just maybe,) we’ll run into some industry where Lean “won’t work.”  We still haven’t found that industry in more than 23 years of working with clients all over the world and in every conceivable industry.  The “place where Lean won’t work” just doesn’t exist as far as we can tell.

Now, all that said; Lean Manufacturing in Aerospace does have some uniqueness’.   First off, you’re always dealing with the government in one way or another and that tends to complicate things a bit.  You must comply with regulations beyond what “normal” manufacturers have to deal with.  In a way that is a good thing…as consultants we fly a lot and are glad you do what you do so well!  We are your very grateful and “raving fan” customers.

Aerospace parts and services aren’t just “thrown together” as many “widgets” might be.  The attention to detail and precision in Aerospace manufacturing and services is exceptional.  Lean Tools are great, but in some ways they are a “sledge hammer” whereas Aerospace requires an approach more akin to a “gem hammer” or a “jeweller’s hammer.”  Just applying Lean Manufacturing tools in Aerospace with a “shotgun” approach will yield some results, but may not lead to the results you really need.

You have to finesse your approach a bit when you work within an industry like Aerospace where precise quality is critical.  The same could be said of Lean Healthcare; the stakes are very high and the tolerance for mistakes and “close enough” is just not good enough.  We find that working the Lean Manufacturing “Magic” in Aerospace is as much a mindset as a set of best practices.  Maybe we could say a mindset of best practices?  Learn more about Lean Manufacturing Tools.

I’ll speak for myself for a minute here…my experience has been that nearly everyone I’ve worked with in Lean Aerospace is pretty much smarter than me.  Yep, I said it; there are literally “Rocket Scientists” and others with advanced engineering degrees and expertise that literally dwarf my understanding in the Aero field.  That’s really ok, and truth be told, consultants specialize in helping companies chock full of brilliant minds realize goals and results far below the level of technical skills we marvel at.  It’s a good thing we don’t have to understand all aspects of high-tech engineering to be useful to you.

We do know, however, that even in Aerospace companies we find a whole host of issues that Lean Manufacturing (properly applied) can help remedy and make your company much more profitable and the work a lot less frustrating.  Here’s a short list of common wastes and opportunities for improvement we find in Aerospace Manufacturing and Service Companies, but it is by no means complete:

    Producing Unsold Inventory that winds-up sitting on shelves tying-up dollars and risking obsolescence and damage (See Lean Manufacturing Inventory Reduction)

    Excessive Lead-Times and Lot Sizes that pile cue after cue and multiple buffers on top of each other until you are no longer competitive (the impact of these practices is vividly illustrated in our article Lean Manufacturing and Government Contracts)

    Sharing Tools and Equipment in order to “maximize” thier efficiencies, but wind-up extending Lead-Times and increasing work in process (WIP)

    Failing to Properly Maintain Equipment which can greatly reduce yields and (again) increase Lead-Times and inventory

    Failing to Source Materials from Multiple Suppliers which leads to reliability and performance issues and (you guessed it) inventory and Lead-Time increases

    Poor Cross-Training that makes your workforce inflexible and unable or ill-equipped to fully engage in the continuous improvement process

    Over-Spec’ing Products to the point that they are virtually impossible to make and far exceed “realistic” quality standards and customer expectations

    Re-Prioritizing Labor for “Hot Jobs” and constantly absorbing losses and manipulating Lead-Times to satisfy certain customers while negatively impacting others

In truth, we could go on and on about the wastes that are embraced or a least tolerated year after year in Aerospace and many other high-tech industries.  This is true where Lean Manufacturing and it’s tenants are just starting to be applied and even where they have been slowly (deathly slowly) attempted for years.

What do you need to do to get Lean in Aerospace?  Well, a “Lean Manufacturing Assessment” is a great place to start.  Most all consulting firms offer a reduced price Lean Assessment to help you see your greatest opportunities, the ROI potential from Lean Implementation and help you catch the Lean Aerospace Vision.  As you can guess, we sure offer this service.

Although Aerospace and Lean Manufacturing may seem like they may be incompatible, they certainly are not.  We have helped many Aerospace Manufacturers and service companies embrace Lean Manufacturing and chase wastes from their processes and systems. I promise you it can and should be done.  America needs Lean Aerospace Companies who can compete in a increasingly global market.

Our advice…if you haven’t begun your Lean Journey, please do so.  We (the US) and so many other countries who count on us really need you to be Lean and Competitive.  The pace of competition is increasing and quite frankly your global competitors are “eating your lunch.”  Get help and get serious about becoming a World Class Lean Manufacturing and Lean Aerospace Company.

Leaner is Better,


P.S. I’ve placed a couple of links in this post that will lead you to our partner website (we joined forces years ago) for additional resources.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us for a private phone conversation.  We know your industry and your need to get Lean and keep our jobs right here in America.


Lean Manufacturing Topic of the Day: Definition of Lean Manufacturing

How do you define Lean Manufacturing?  Our definition of Lean manufacturing can be kind of long and drawn-out, but we like to boil things down and state them simply and clearly.  You might say, when it comes right down to it, we have a fairly “Lean” way of defining Lean Manufacturing.

Lean Manufacturing: Is a system / approach to eliminating waste and enabling continuous improvement.

That is a Lean way of saying it for sure.  No, it doesn’t capture all the nuances of Lean Manufacturing, or the Lean tools and principles etc.  But in a Lean way and without any elaboration, this simple definition of Lean Manufacturing satisfies a few of the most essential components of what Lean Manufacturing really is.

    1.   A System / Approach – Not just a set of tools you throw at your problems, but an overriding strategy and philosophy guided by principles.

    2.   Eliminating Waste – Perhaps the greatest emphasis in Lean Manufacturing is the elimination of waste in all it’s infinite forms.  The elimination of waste in Lean Manufacturing is truly the “mother” of…

    3.   Continuous Improvement – Which constantly challenges the status quo and asks the question: “Is there a better way?”

Of course there is much more to say about our Lean Manufacturing Definition and how the many components come together, but let’s just keep our focus on what matters most for today, and define Lean Manufacturing in Lean terms.

How do you boil it all down and define Lean Manufacturing?

All the Best,


PS:   This web site contains a myriad of posts and articles that address the subtleties of Lean Manufacturing and the science of effectively and efficiently making the transformation.   For example:

  • Are you currently operating on one shift?
  • Running a job-shop?
  • Having difficulty convincing upper management to make the commitment?
  • Having trouble meshing the continuous improvemnt power of lean with the scheduling requirements of your ERP system?
  • Dealing with the complexity of government contract / aerospace requirements?
  • Got persistent Quality issues?
  • Perhaps you have supplier issues?
  • Or, you’re already in the throes of a lean transition, but progress is not what you’d hoped for.
  • Need more information on Lean Manufacturing tools and techniques?
  • Dealing with huge capital equipment: e.g. the steel or food industries?

    Still didn’t address your hot button?   Well, take a look at the posts (look right) or check out the complete article list .

    Need still more?   Check out our sister site.   We merged the two companies, but retain both web sites, essentially doubling the amount of information we provide.   And, if this still doen’t answer your questions, feel free to call or write.   There is no charge, and we always attempt to add value.

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    Lean Manufacturing Topic of the Day: Is There a "Lean Way" of Getting Aid to the People of Haiti?

    Our hearts go out to the people of Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake that has caused so much destruction and human suffering. Many of the companies and good people who visit our website will do much to contribute to helping with the immediate and long-term needs of the people there. We are grateful to be in such good company!

    Like Hurricane Katrina, it appears getting needed supplies and services to Haiti is proving to be a real challenge. Are there Lean ways to streamline this process and provide help where needed in a more immediate manner?

    To at least partially answer that question, there are local Haitian churches that had some supplies of emergency essentials that were almost immediately distributed to those in need. That is a great start; but what more could be done through using the principles of Lean Manufacturing of Eliminating Waste, Adding Value, and providing JIT “Just in Time” supplies and services to those in desperate need of help?

    Your thoughts would be much appreciated and we will make recommendations to various agencies if we (as a Lean Community,) can generate some workable solutions.

    All the Best,

    Senior Partner