High Volume, Lean Flow Shops, Big Gains
In the early Twentieth Century, Anthony Fokker’s imagination soared with the news of Wilbur Wright’s exhibition flights in France. It was 1908. Two years later, the aspiring Dutch aviator’s father sent him to train as a mechanic for the growing automotive industry. But his passion was flying. That same year, the 20-year-old Fokker built his first aircraft “de Spin,” the Spider.
Being part of Stork B.V., Fokker Technologies specializes in manufacturing for other global aviation and aerospace companies. Its Elmo division, based in Hoogerheide, The Netherlands, has developed a singular expertise in electrical interconnection systems for aircraft and aircraft engines. Fokker Elmo facilities in Holland, Turkey, and China build wire harnesses and assemblies for companies throughout the world. For example:
- Lockheed Martin relies on wire harnesses engineered, built, and tested by Fokker Elmo for every F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
- Fokker Elmo is responsible for all-things electrical in the wings for Airbus 320 and A400M as well as the pylon and cockpit harness for the A380.
- Boeing wires up its next-generation 737 and 777 models, also using harnesses built by Fokker Elmo.
- Fokker Elmo supplies Bombardier with every aspect, engineering to commissioning, of the electrical wiring systems for the company’s new CSeries family of commercial aircraft.
The full scope of Fokker Elmo’s capabilities – engineering design, a manufacturing core competency, and an industry-leading fabrication shop – makes it a unique partner to its customers.
The company’s unique Wiring Design and Manufacturing System (WDMS) is a highly efficient manufacturing software tool and process that significantly reduces overall costs, captures the design, and converts the information into all aspects of the production process. WDMS safeguards the configuration of the aircraft wiring and enables online change capabilities.
Bombardier, Canada, takes full advantage of Fokker Elmo’s scope of services.
“We are responsible for the design and production of the entire wiring and interconnection system for Bombardier’s CSeries civilian aircraft, start to finish,” says Manufacturing Engineer Rinie van Gorsel. Fokker Elmo provides integrated design, manufacturing and a customer support package that includes several electrical panels. [KFR1] In addition, the company is designing and producing all flight test and instrumentation wiring required during the certification of the CSeries. They also handle all modifications before the aircraft is put into service.
Fokker Elmo’s Global Footprint
About 40 miles from Beijing, Fokker Elmo’s expanded operations in Langfang, China, turn out harnesses and assemblies for the civilian aerospace market. The AS9100-approved facility is ideal for higher-volume production demands of the Airbus and Boeing aircraft. Conditions also have been ideal for transforming much of the fabrication from centralized electrical testing to a model of lean production.
Fokker has traditionally used a centralized test bench with a Model 2650 configured with 9,600 test points. The test bench which incorporates the test interface directly above the work surface provides great flexibility by accommodating many different harness designs.
“There is still a need for a large test bench, but few assemblies require more than 1,500 test points, and most are less than 1,000 points,” says van Gorsel. The centralized process that was well-suited to lower volumes had created such a bottleneck for higher-volume runs that the plant operated two testing shifts to keep up with one shift of manufacturing.
Since modifying their processes with a lean approach, Fokker manufacturing engineers have made significant changes in wire harness testing. “Production is streamlined to eliminate processes which do not add value,” says van Gorsel. Their “cell flow shop” is more efficient for higher volume production.
“DIT-MCO 2115 testers will be used for higher-volume, smaller products in production,” he says. Operators are not moving around product, and product is not just sitting there, waiting for testing or the next production stage. Multiple 2115 testers – compact, portable, and modular – are strategically located in production areas. All the tools and parts are close at hand. As soon as a harness is fabricated, it is tested, in line, where the cables are built. DIT-MCO immediately identifies faults so employees can correct them on the spot.
There is no movement of the materials until the harness is completely finished, a basic lean principle that also minimizes WIP damage. “From start to finish, one technician can build, test, fix, and complete the process without moving product around,” says van Gorsel. Throughput is faster than before, there is less work-in-process, products spend less time in “build” stages, and lead time has decreased.
Fokker Elmo’s Izmir, Turkey, facility primarily supplies military customers, including Boeing, EADS/Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Agusta Westland, and UTC Aerospace companies. The facility is AS9100 certified.
The Turkish operation is starting production on the JSF program. Services include the engineering for wire harnesses throughout the entire aircraft. “We provide everything for the JSF, from test programs, which are developed in Holland, to fabrication to testing with DIT- MCO” in Turkey, says van Gorsel. They ship finished harnesses to other international locations doing full aircraft assembly and testing.
Initially Turkey will use a low-volume approach with traditional centralized testing, using the DIT-MCO 2650. As production increases and more programs are added, Fokker Elmo Turkey will move to lean processes with distributed test systems based on DIT-MCO’s 2115 tester in the manufacturing cell, modeled on the plant in China.
In addition to its corporate headquarters, Fokker Elmo’s operations in The Netherlands is home to extensive fabrication of aircraft and jet engine harnesses for both civilian and military aircraft in an AS9100-certified facility. It also is the heart of everything that happens before production at any Fokker Elmo operation.
Test operations here are outfitted with DIT-MCO Model 2115 testers mounted on trolleys. Lean operations favor portability, and “we drive the testers to the product,” says van Gorsel. “Our DIT-MCO testers rarely sit idle.”
Designers develop every Fokker Elmo prototype and send the complete engineering to their different facilities for production. Engineering includes everything from the wire routing and material specifications to test parameters, including specs for crimp strength, push-back tests, and other details. The facility also designs and produces flight test instrumentation wiring and is responsible for engineering support, including qualification of components, finishes, and manufacturing processes.
Interchangeably is Key to Fokker Elmo Lean Initiatives & Global Strategy
A high degree of interchangeability is fundamental to Fokker Elmo’s success, according to van Gorsel. The more their operations feature elements such as common adapter cables, joint training programs, and standard maintenance regimens, the greater the flexibility and coordination. Simultaneously, the company’s expansion created opportunities to focus on lean principles and promote continuous improvement.
Fokker Elmo electrical test engineers have made it more straightforward to increase the number of common adapter cables by choosing to build fully populated cables – “fully wired up,” says van Gorsel. All test points are “live,” but the adapter cables use only what the product under test requires, whether they use five points, 50, or 500. Fully populated test cables improve the test process and reduce costs two ways:
- Standardization – using the same cables to test different harness or assemblies,
- Flexibility – accommodating changes in a harness or assembly.
Within the international aerospace market, Fokker Elmo also examines its production capabilities from a global point of view – interchangeability across all plants, which allows them to integrate a multiple-site, single-process philosophy. They want the ability to move test equipment from plant to plant, not just product to product within a plant. To meet such an ambitious goal, all electrical test systems will offer the same capabilities. All test systems are modular and can be re-configured as their needs change, and test programs are easily modified.
As Fokker Elmo continues to grow, the same lean principles and interchangeability will be used in any new production facilities or configurations for new programs.
Continuous improvement goes hand in hand with lean operations. Fokker’s “lean teams” constantly evaluate improvements in the process. For example, they are currently evaluating a portable test cell that includes the test adapters and required tools. The teams also have built cardboard mock-ups of test setup. The mock-ups allow them to experiment with lean process improvements and obtain feedback before implementing new ideas.
Meeting Fokker Elmo’s Special Needs
DIT-MCO engineers developed a special interface to help transition the testing process in China from the 2650 tester to the 2115 in the flow shop environment. The interface, designed to accommodate existing test adapters, is interchangeable and supports data generation processes.
The unique interface uses 500-point boxes to test 500-, 1,000-, 2,000-point and larger assemblies on 2115 and 2650 test systems. The boxes can be stacked vertically or aligned horizontally to match the required number of test points. The setups also take advantage of the fully-populated adapter cable design.
According to van Gorsel, Fokker Elmo adheres to the highest standard of safety for electrical testing. “We may even exceed requirements in some areas.” They are taking advantage of DIT- MCO’s ability to add intrusion detection to shield personnel in the test area from high A/C voltage.
With expanded production capabilities, progressive operations, a reputation for quality, and new partnerships, Fokker Elmo has positioned itself for continued growth over the next decade.
They provide high-quality aerospace products at a competitive cost. They use technology to streamline processes. And they adapt to new requirements to meet the needs of its customers.
Anthony Fokker – and his father, too, no doubt – is impressed.