Flight International reviews industry progress towards lean manufacturing

Lockheed Martin aeronautics sector chief Micky Blackwell recently declared 1998 to be the "year of lean" - and not because of a dearth in orders. Five years after the USA launched its Lean Aircraft Initiative, Blackwell believes that the industry is beginning a "revolutionary transformation" in how it does business.

The evidence is everywhere to be seen. Lockheed Martin is building the F-16 fighter more cheaply today than five years ago, despite a decline in production. The company, with Boeing, is projecting F-22 production cost savings exceeding $4 billion through producibility improvement and lean manufacturing. Bell and Boeing have begun production of a V-22 tiltrotor transport that is significantly cheaper and lighter than the original machine, thanks to manufacturing advances made possible with computerised design tools.

Now Boeing hopes to turn around its overburdened airliner business using new computer tools for defining and controlling aircraft configuration and managing manufacturing resources. Lockheed Martin is deploying a production system at its fighter plant that uses lean manufacturing principles, while creating a virtual environment in which it can simulate the manufacture and operation of the Joint Strike Fighter before metal is ever cut.

Lean manufacturing, meanwhile, will be central to efforts to control costs on the $45 billion, 620-aircraft, Eurofighter EF2000 programme, with partners in four nations drawing on experience gained working with Airbus Industrie. Manufacturing sites in Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK are already seeing heavy investment in new numerical-control cutting, drilling and riveting machines, which will contribute to a 30% cut in manhours compared with Panavia Tornado production, with lean practices drastically reducing defect rates.

Reducing the aerospace industry's costs and cycle times is crucial if commercial aircraft manufacturers are to be profitable and military aircraft affordable in the next century.

Source: Flight International