Going Lean in Manufacturing

Departments - Expert Opinion

Numerous Benefits for Aerospace Engineering

December 6, 2010
JP Lambiase

(Top) A multi-layer powder-coated bus bar has possible use in an IGBT semi-conductor switch applications.(Bottom) These single conductor powder-coated bus bars can replace cables and are used for power distribution in an aircraft.The benefits to going lean – in aerospace and numerous other industries – are significant. Traditional manufacturing processes have posed common problems that have hampered companies’ efforts to decrease costs and improve output. The defects, overproduction, and obsolescence inherent in conventional manufacturing come from a reliance on a great deal of people and processes to complete a singular task. Businesses working under such conditions face more expenses, greater overhead, and countless non-value-added processes that impede progress.

Applications where lean manufacturing techniques specifically address the needs for the aerospace community include:

  • Power-supply systems;
  • Transmitter power-supplies for electronic countermeasures (ECMs);
  • Detonating devices for exploding foil initiators (EFIs or EBWs) used in electronics safe and arm devices (ESADs);
  • Partial discharge sensing equipment;
  • Power electronics applications;
  • Pulse power applications;
  • Pulse-forming networks for radar transmitters;
  • Starters for jet ignition systems;
  • Guidance-system transmitters for missiles; and
  • Radar transmitters for shipboard defense systems.

Often, companies design and manufacture their products based more on  a devotion to the way it has always been done than on creative and new processes that represent improvements over the status quo. It is likely these manufacturers do not even see the fat in their approach. In many manufacturing environments, waste goes unnoticed. These are some telltale signs of a need to streamline manufacturing methods:

  • Unnecessary shipments;
  • Unused equipment and tools;
  • Time-consuming assemblies; and
  • Product inconsistencies or defects.

These problems can rapidly add up to significant depletion of resources, time, and money. As a result of inefficient operations, a company might face longer lead times, more waste, and more time spent on unnecessary steps and processes.

The above obstacles can be easily avoided with the use of lean design implementations and components, which serve to eliminate unnecessary steps. Some of the additional benefits to producing lean components are improved safety, increased product and process quality, and quicker delivery. Lean components therefore pose a huge advantage in the market for aerospace manufacturers that desire to improve their current processes.

There are several types of lean components and various reasons to employ them. Condensing multiple assembly components into one larger component can save a company time and money from the beginning of the design process to the end product. The bus bar, in particular, is an example of a lean component being used for countless electrical applications. Its benefits rely on its quality, reproducibility, consistency, and a relatively simple design, reducing the risk of human error, lowering inductance, and increasing electrical efficiencies. Bus bars convert a complex mess of cables into a single robust assembly. Nearly any power distribution requirement can be satisfied with the use of a bus bar.

Bus bars and integrated electronic assemblies are both considered block products, prime examples of simplified and improved fit and functionality for use in larger assemblies. The block design is a lean engineering technique which fuels the primitive stages of component design.

Block design in bus bars is basically condensing multiple components into one solid object. This simplification prevents missing components, eliminates guesswork, and speeds up the design-verification process. Following the design phase, the block approach benefits nearly every other aspect of production by significantly cutting costs and saving valuable time. Nearly any department that touches manufacturing benefits from the move toward leaner production. This includes: 

  • Procurement: Benefits from the block design by arranging vendors for one individual assembly, rather than a long list. An order can now be placed for a single item, simplifying communication by eliminating multiple part files.
  • Receiving: Allows for a customer source inspection of only a single unit rather than traveling to multiple vendors to inspect individual components.
  • Accounts payable: Requires cutting only one check for one part to one vendor.
  • Inventory control: If this block design were broken down into its individual components and assembled in-house, an additional number of individual components would have to be inventoried to compensate for expected manufacturing loss. Because it is a one-block design, this eliminates the need to stock more internal components than might be used. Furthermore, typical block assemblies will be sealed and not require as careful handling and storage as individual sensitive components.

Manufacturing of bus bar block components also requires less process development since prior steps to assemble the block have already been taken care of by the vendor. The benefits in manufacturing the bus bar assembly reduce the risk of incorrect and/or improper wiring. Installation becomes more efficient based on its static geometry and definable terminations, which results in fewer manufacturing personnel and process instructions required. Lead bus bar designers have incorporated lean engineering techniques into their own processes, providing an engineered insurance of fit and function. Through numerous inspections in the beginning stages of design, bus bar block assemblies guarantee exactness and fewer parts prior to issue to manufacturing.
Lean manufacturing offers proven benefits to the aerospace market. Through block design and alternative component choices such as bus bars, the lean approach enables aerospace engineers to cut the fat from their own products and strengthen their competitive edge within the industry.

Custom Electronics, Inc.
Oneonta, NY