Lessons learned from Boeing's 737 pulse-line final assembly system have helped the company speed production at its specialist satellite manufacturing plant in El Segundo, California.

However, while Boeing is geared up to turn out 35 or more 737s every month in Renton, high volume in the satellite business means up to six units per year.

The move to a pulse-line system - in which the work in progress moves between stations so teams of workers perform the same set of tasks on each unit rather than build a complete unit - has allowed the introduction of some lean techniques, new tooling and better work-planning. "This is the highest satellite production rate in Boeing history," said Space and Intelligence Systems vice-president Craig Cooning.

The four-station pulse line can accommodate four spacecraft at one time. The result is the ability to deliver one of the US Air Force's GPS IIF spacecraft to storage every two to three months. Of the 12 spacecraft Boeing is contracted to deliver, two are in orbit, two are in storage and eight are in production; the next launch is scheduled for the third quarter of 2012.

However, the system only improves on one-by-one production when making four or more identical spacecraft like the GPS IIF. Most satellites are in some way unique and remain the domain of traditional assembly.

Source: Flight International