Leveraging Lean

For an investment primarily of time, Lufthansa Technik (LHT) Group has achieved faster turnaround times (TATs), improved quality and dispatch reliability, and in the process saves “in the high two-digit millions of euros per year,” says Christian Langer, head of Lean activities for LHT Group. Man-hours are the single biggest cost driver, he says. LHT’s most notable success statistically has been with its component overhaul division. Composed of 40 workshops, the unit in 2007 had an average TAT of about 17 days to repair items such as flight control, hydraulic and avionics units. Determined to improve, the division planned a two-year Lieferung in Fu?nf Tagen (LIFT—Delivery in Five Days) project. The end result: five-day TAT and no layoffs, Langer says. The division now works on a strict first-in, first-out (FIFO) basis—with no priorities to interrupt the flow.

Customers with urgent needs are supplied via pools. Lufthansa Technik concentrates not only on the infrastructure side—moving materials and tooling—but also on the people side, a Lean fundamental. There are “daily performance dialogs” in every part of the company that does Lean. Shift leaders meet with their shifts at least five to 10 minutes daily to talk about “key figures” relating to what the group wanted to achieve during its shift vs. what it actually achieved. It isn’t always easy to get people into the Lean mindset. Langer tells how one shift leader asked him whether he had to do all the Lean exercises in addition to his regular work. Langer explained to him that “Lean is an essential part of your job.” The idea of the dialogs, besides communicating about problems, is to change the way people talk about performance and to generate ideas from the ground up. It’s also intended to foster teamwork and confidence. Shift leaders are initially very shy around top management, but at the end of a 12-week project they blossom at these meetings because they are proud of what they do, Langer says. Another challenge is “keeping spirits up” to drive Lean’s continuous improvement (CI) cycle. Shift leaders have weekly performance meetings with their section managers or department managers. These are viewed, not as tests, but as a way to get help. An issue with an outside supplier, for example, may need to be addressed at a higher management level. LHT heavy maintenance faces constant change because of its wide range of business. It may have an economy-class in-flight entertainment project followed by a first-class seat modification. It takes a couple of weeks to prepare a new Lean campaign, but this is scheduled in the period before the project starts. Last year LHT took in at least 80 new projects across its six divisions worldwide.

When a Lean project produces unsatisfying results, it’s often because the goal wasn’t appealing enough to motivate people, Langer says. At one time LFT Philippines had a percentage- based goal for on-time A-checks. When Langer visited the facility three months later to see how the project was going, they had come up with a more appealing goal—the number of consecutive A-checks completed on time. The facility was at 48 in a row—a big number—and if they reached 50 in a row, there would be free pizzas. If they got to 100, there would be an even bigger prize. “You don’t want to be the one who screws up the A-check the next morning because that’s a big deal,” Langer says. Goals work best when they have an emotional element. Langer recalls a line maintenance unit’s goal for reducing technical delays. They were already at a very high on-time percentage but wanted to go even higher. A mechanic told Langer about being called one day by the captain of a long- haul flight to fix a technical problem. An elderly lady on board recognized the mechanic as a technician because of his uniform. She asked whether he could fix the problem and he said he didn’t know yet. Then she told him she would miss her daughter’s wedding if the plane couldn’t take off. That information was a real motivator. The mechanic said he had never worked that hard before. He felt that if he didn’t fix the airplane the old lady risked missing a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “We are always looking for figures that are in any way emotional for people,” Langer says. It’s important for technicians to understand that “it’s not just an airplane.” It’s a cabin full of people, at least one of whom has a special goal. The MRO is just starting to apply the methodology to administration, Langer says. One of the challenges for administrators is how to identify their products. Another is how to measure the value created for the company. Preliminary results aren’t in yet, but he is confident of success. MORE ONLINE

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