By Michael Hughes
Leaning the friendly skies
Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the airport.
Bryant Field was just behind the house. Well, you had to cross a cow pasture to get there, but the bovines were peaceful unless you messed with them too much.
Then it was off to an afternoon of adventure, shooting pool and playing Space Invaders in the lounge; talking to the Carowinds theme park stunt plane pilots who were based at the small municipal field; wandering around the runway and hangars looking at planes; and watching them take off and land. Mostly, they were single-wing planes, with a few biplanes scattered around.
A double dose of asthma and pathetic vision killed my dream of following in Snoopy’s footsteps and flying for the U.S. military. Charles Shultz’s cartoon beagle was, of course, a World War I fighter pilot (among many incarnations).
But I kept my love of planes and flying, whether in small planes or jumbo jets. It still is thrilling to watch the aerobatics and speed of the sleek and lean jets that fly overhead when the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and other stunt pilots perform at air shows.
Since coming aboard at IIE, my definition of lean has expanded to include manufacturing. So I was delighted when noted lean expert Richard J. Schonberger wanted to do an analysis of the Boeing 737’s lean operations. More than 6,000 of the short- to medium-range passenger jets have been delivered since the first one flew in 1967.
Boeing’s lean operations in Renton, Wash., have won their share of industry praise, and the plane manufacturer has a strong contingent of industrial engineers.
But as all IEs know, even if you’re the best, you can get better. Schonberger’s “The Missing Ingredient?” gives a big tip. The cover story, which starts on Page 26, points out the benefits of separating value streams in manufacturing. In his opinion, such a focus would reduce costs and inventory, decrease flow time by days, enable marketing to offer different “standard packages” at cheaper prices, increase margins and leave more money for investing in future improvements.
It’s an interesting proposition. Take a look and see what you think.
Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at email@example.com or (770) 349-1110.