Developing Fuel Management Systems using Lean Product Development
Liquid Measurement Systems (LMS) began in 1989 with one big idea – replace the heavy metal tubes in fuel probes with graphite composite. It was lighter, more durable and would not corrode. Manufacturing of these new probes began shortly thereafter with the understanding that everything was to be done with the highest attention to detail and quality of craftsmanship. LMS expanded into signal conditioners and fuel gauges, adding manufacturing and engineering staff. In 2006, the company moved to its current location in Georgia, Vermont where they currently develop and manufacture systems that are trusted for use in many of today’s aircraft including the Chinook, Blackhawk, Apache, S-97 Raider, LittleBird, Cobra, Huey and S92. With 30 employees on staff, their state-of-the-art components are developed to withstand the toughest conditions and have been put through the most stringent testing procedures to ensure their success in the field.
VMEC began their relationship with LMS several years ago having worked on basic Lean principles with their manufacturing staff. Seeing the success of this training and implementation, the engineering area was curious as to how similar Lean concepts could be transferred to their area of the business. Meeting with VMEC in 2011, it was determined the best course of action was to design and document a completely new product development process based on the Future State map as defined by a Value Stream Mapping effort where the entire company would be involved. LMS specifically chose a project – one that was new and problematic – to test this process.
In the past, each LMS employee or department worked independently on various aspects of any project, depending on its focus and deadline. Client folders were not shared and working in this manner led to slow and unorganized processes. By implementing selected Lean Product Development methods as identified by the Value Stream Map tool, each department – beginning with Customer Service and flowing to Sales and Marketing, Engineering and Manufacturing – was able to view their involvement, a timeline and the project flow from start to finish. Now, all project folders, such as contact information, customer and preliminary design concept, score history graph, data item sheet and action item tracker just to name a few, are on a shared drive for all company personnel to view and comment. A template was created with this information to make future projects easier. This process has reduced overall project time. Engineering and manufacturing work closely together on the initial units produced to capture the assembly process. This achieves the added benefit of developing and assembly procedure and having it available for the first production build. LMS successfully completed their AS9100 Rev C Transition Audit on June 19, 2012. The auditors commented on their Lean Product Development process and said that it was among the best they have seen.
To date, approximately 20 projects at LMS have either been completed, are open or have been archived for later work details. Barry Corbin, Project Manager at LMS, states “due to the success with the original test project, now each new project at LMS has its own Product Development Process which the employees have embraced. We don’t even think of beginning a project without the template. Everyone expects it now and knows its value.”