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 www.tpslean.com (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.