By Andrew Wagner:
My wife, the resident space geek, turned me in the direction of this Boeing Press Release on their new lean “pulse line” for building GPS satellites, and presumably other satellites.
Most of the post is your standard lean accomplishments:
“…reducing the travel distance of a space vehicle from 12,000 feet to 10,000 feet…The line is intended to eliminate rework, allowing parts to flow continuously and smoothly through the process….New work cells, new tooling, standard work-planning packages and Lean manufacturing processes will reduce the total build time per satellite and increase the number of vehicles moving through the line at one time.”
Wait a minute… Increase the number of vehicles on the line? Do I need to go back and read that again? Increase inventory? That sure doesn't sound lean to me.
There are some ways to justify the increase in WIP. Perhaps they've freed up floor space and increased capacity so that they can meet increased customer demand. Mark reminded me that Factory Physics (and Theory of Constraints) indicates that WIP can be too low, in some cases. We're just unaccustomed to it.
Most companies beginning lean journeys start from a mass production baseline, but satellite production? Satellite production is the epitome of custom craft production. We've started to see constellations in recent years with GPS and telecom, but fundamentally the mindset is probably still building one-off pieces or small lots–not small lot sizes, small lots and then you're done for good, on to the next product.
The lean pulse line might actually be the first time they've looked at how to produce this particular product in a repeatable, systematic way. Of course, it's also possible that their PR folks do not understand lean well enough to describe their accomplishments. At worst, it's another sad example of “LAME” instead of lean.
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