A big part of making the JSF affordable is the production plan. Managers from BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman discussed here Monday how they have adopted ‘lean manufacturing’ processes and philosophies from the automotive industry. With the production rate planned to reach one per working day (e.g., about 260 per year) in 2012, there is plenty of scope for adopting the techniques of mass production. The lessons learned have already been successfully implemented, they noted, even at this early stage.
“We went to Detroit and learned from the company that advises Ford Motor Company,” said Janis Pamiljans, F-35 program manager, Northrop Grumman. “The challenge is ‘pull’– don’t make or order anything before time.” Northrop Grumman has also adopted a devolved style of responsibility on the production floor, which is common in the automobile industry. process management teams are empowered to meet schedules and goals in the ways that they see fit.
Pamiljans noted that the company’s JSF manufacturing facility at Palmdale was paperless–even the process instructions are in graphic form. Chris Garside, the JSF production manager at BAE Systems, added that the all-digital design of the JSF extended to the tooling for detail parts and final assembly. “Digital design gives us a constant point of reference for all measurements,” he added.
Results of the new thinking have already been impressive. The first center-fuselage left Palmdale with only five out of a total planned 28,000 work hours unfinished, said Pamiljans. The first aft fuselage left BAE’s Samlesbury factory on time and budget, added Garside. Such was the fidelity of these two major subassemblies, that when they reached Fort Worth, Lockheed Martin workers spent only 58 hours mating them in the final assembly fixture, versus a predicted 183 hours. “We are working to manufacturing tolerances of less than half the thickness of a human hair,” said Garside. Such accuracy has a payoff in stealth performance, he added, by eliminating even the smallest surface discontinuities in the airframe.