IIE Annual Conference & Expo 2015
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Q&A with Kevin Bartelson 

Kevin Bartelson is general manager for Boeing Canada Operations in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He will be giving his keynote presentation at the IIE Annual Conference Tuesday, June 3. 

What is the most exciting development or, conversely, the most pressing challenge in the field of industrial and systems engineering today?

If I think about it from an industrial engineer’s perspective, one of the big challenges we have had and will continue to have is how we deploy the lean tactics across our business. And it’s in our factories as well as in our offices. So we have to be thinking differently about things like product flow, positioning of WIP in product lines, takt times, kitting, optimal use of various skill sets – a lot of the lean tactics that we’ve been working on but [have] a long way to go on in terms of deploying them across our whole business. So that’s been a challenge and will continue to be a challenge for our business. And it’s also very exciting because we’re getting great gains out of the process.

Another challenge for us – and again, it’s exciting but also a challenge – is that in commercial aircraft operations we’re experiencing build rates that we’ve never seen before. I can remember years ago when trying to build 20 737s in a month was like … it would take your breath away to think about it. And we’ve more than doubled that now – we’re at 42.5 a month. We’re going higher. It’s all based on customer demand that we’ve committed to already. We’ve already sold the airplanes, so we’ve got to figure out how to structure production lines such that we can hit these rates and not require a whole lot more new facility, new space … We’ve got to have more kitting, things like that. We’ve got to be looking at moving lines for aircraft and subproducts. And our IEs are absolutely critical to that process. They’re right in the middle of it. Like on the 737, for instance, we’ve literally doubled our rates; we’ve not added any new brick and mortar. We’ve just done it within the current confines of the business.

What do you plan to discuss in your keynote presentation?

My presentation will be broken into three parts. First I will talk about Boeing products – that would be defense and space and commercial products. It’s more or less a grounding or creating a foundation to springboard off of in terms of letting the audience know who we are and what we do. … The second piece is our Boeing strategy for deployment of IE skills and tools across the business. Then the third piece is – I’ve actually been in Boeing Winnipeg as a site leader for three years, and so I’ll draw on those three years, talk about how we practically apply our IEs at our Boeing Winnipeg site. I’ll spend time talking about tools we use, how we integrate lean thinking into our world of IEs and into our business.

What would you like attendees to take away from your presentation?

From a personal standpoint, I’d love to have them be excited about Boeing and what we do. I’d like them to take away a better understanding of Boeing’s product line and strategy, a better understanding of Boeing’s IE deployment and strategy, and a better understanding of Boeing Winnipeg, and how we use IEs in our business to manage our production system.

I think in a lot of industries, and it’s really not any different in Boeing, sometimes the world of IEs, manufacturing engineers and tool engineers gets a bit overlooked because you have the design engineer who creates the great product. And the reality is no design engineer in a big company creates a great product. It’s a healthy collaboration amongst a lot of technical folks including our IEs who have to create. They’ve got to come up with a dream just like the design engineer does except they’re designing a production system that will efficiently build the product. They don’t just do that post-design; they do it during the design process so that the part can be designed to be built. The IEs, the MEs, the tool engineers – all these folks that work a little bit closer to the factory floor --  are absolutely critical to success. Sometimes they don’t get that accolade quite so much as they should, I think.

We have a lot of IEs in important positions, but we don’t really look at them as IEs. They’re managers of our production system or some other title, but that IE background is pretty darn important. Full transparency: I am not an IE. I grew up as a tool engineer though. I grew up on the factory side of our business here at Boeing. It’s been my love. I’ve always been a factory guy and wanted to understand how to make a factory run more efficiently, and it seems like seven times out of 10 I’m dealing with IE tools and concepts to make that happen.

For more information about Kevin Bartelson and the other IIE Annual Conference keynote speakers, go to the Keynote Speakers page at www.iienet.org/annual.