It is said that success is often a matter of being in the right place at the right time. When InterConnect Wiring found itself in danger of falling behind its delivery schedule on a US$50m contract, it found success by having the right supplier in place at just the right time.
InterConnect Wiring boasts over 20 years’ experience in the manufacture of wiring harnesses, power distribution, relay and cockpit panels, and other electrical equipment, for military aircraft. Established in 1993 in the home of one of its founders, InterConnect Wiring today employs some 100 workers in three buildings at its headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. Customers include Lockheed Martin for F-16 and F-2 wiring harnesses and panels; Boeing for B-1B harnesses; BAE Systems for F-16 ground support equipment; Sikorsky for S-92, S-76, UH-60 and H-92 harnesses; L3 for EC-130 electrical harnesses; and the US Department of Defense for F-15 electrical power distribution harnesses and panels.
But a US$50m contract from the US Air Force to rewire the electrical power distribution system in 72 F-15 aircraft proved to be a testing challenge for the company. InterConnect’s chief test programmer, Mike Winters, says there were two main challenges: all the electrical panels require power during testing; and InterConnect had never delivered so many of them to such a tight schedule.
For years, InterConnect had been testing all its products on DIT-MCO Model 2115 wiring testers. For products requiring power during testing, InterConnect built a patch panel to inject power through ‘Y’ connections in test cables. However, this patch panel had become a bottleneck. Connecting it to the test interface and power supplies was time consuming. And after years of use, it had become unreliable. Man-hours were being wasted troubleshooting frequent false alarms.
InterConnect’s test department was soon under an avalanche of panels: “It got so stacked up over there, they were just buried in them,” says Winters. “It was frustrating, because the department was seen as holding up production. And that’s always a focus you don’t want.”
InterConnect was in danger of falling severely behind schedule and making late deliveries. Its customer relationship and reputation were at risk. It needed to reduce testing time on these products – and fast. Luckily, Winters didn’t have to search long to find a solution.
Instead, the solution found him. One day, while InterConnect was preparing its first deliveries, a DIT-MCO International sales manager happened to be at the plant. He stopped to watch the testers troubleshoot a panel. Seeing the difficulties they were having with their patch panel, the sales manager described how the DIT-MCO Model 2650, with multiple bus architecture (MBA), could help. Mike Winters says that until then they hadn’t known such a technology existed: “I remember we kind of looked at each other and thought, ‘Now that would be a life saver’.”
When InterConnect was forced to take a hard look at how to get back on schedule, Winters began pressing for a DIT-MCO Model 2650. What really interested Winters was the Model 2650’s MBA option. MBA adds either two or four buses in parallel with the standard instrumentation bus, plus a routing matrix that can connect any instrument or power supply to any bus, and any bus to any test point. Power is routed – by software control. No manual connections are required. Winters and his team could eliminate their troublesome patch panel, and save many, many man-hours.
Winters says the Model 2650 exceeded expectations right from the start: “I think the first time that we ran a panel, the technician thought the program had aborted, it was over so quickly – it tested the product so fast! Once we started using the 2650, I don’t think it was two weeks before we had the shelf cleared.”
That quick turnaround helped the assembly department. “There’s a lot of preparation that goes into the product after it leaves the testing department,” says Winters. “Being able to get the product faster from us gives them more time to concentrate on delivering a quality product. So it has boosted morale in that area, as well.”
Eliminating the patch panel has greatly reduced InterConnect’s test setup time and troubleshooting time, while improving safety. “We go through those panels a lot faster than we did, and more reliably,” says Winters. “And I’m not as concerned with operator safety as I was before.”
As an example, Winters cited testing times for one particular part, which dropped from more than six hours to just 22 minutes – an improvement of 1,536%.
But the most important improvement has been to InterConnect’s bottom line. Winters reports that testing man-hours have been reduced so dramatically since adopting the Model 2650 (MBA) that test department efficiency has jumped by over 500%.