Universal Avionics, an Elbit Systems Company, is a leading manufacturer of innovative avionics systems offered as retrofit and forward-fit solutions for the largest diversification of aircraft types in its industry. Recent Federal Aviation Administration mandates, designed to improve the safety, communication and fuel economy of aircraft are driving the increase in demand for the company’s products.


Over the past year, Universal Avionics has worked to nearly double its manufacturing capacity to meet this increased demand.  However, this effort has exposed several processes which became constraints, or bottlenecks, requiring additional Lean Manufacturing attention to meet the capacity goals.  Universal had used Lean principles to initially set up and run its production line, but with the sales slowdown in response to the economic downturn of the past 10 years, and with the recent addition of new employees, focus and training on Lean principles had slipped. 


To kick-start the company’s re-dedication to Lean and to increase output on certain production lines, the leadership team decided to take two actions:


1) Hold Lean training with key staff.  As Universal Avionics increased hiring, it now had employees with varying degrees of experience and knowledge about Lean. The training would help get the employees on the same page.


2) Use Lean principles to improve production output on the conformal coating production line, one of the processes that had been identified as a capacity constraint.


Peggy Carson, Director of Supply Chain Management at Universal Avionics, had attended a RevAZ lunch-and-learn about Training Within Industry (TWI) and through discussions with RevAZ about TWI and Lean, was inspired to engage RevAZ, Arizona’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership program housed at the Arizona Commerce Authority, to host a four-hour training session. Once the training was complete, RevAZ and Universal Avionics worked together on a project to improve production output on the line that applies conformal coating to the backs of circuit boards.



Mapping out the Real Process

Before the conformal coating process on the production line could be improved, it was important to understand its current state. While the process had been documented in the past, it was not visible to production staff and no longer matched exactly with what was happening on the floor. It was also important to document what was being done, by whom, and how long each of the tasks took to complete to establish a baseline from which to improve. When the team mapped out and timed the tasks, they discovered several which could be improved or eliminated resulting in streamlined operations. 


Conformal Coating Process Flow


Step Task
Step 1: Mask the areas of the circuit board that do not need coating  
Step 2: Configure the pallet trays that hold the boards when they are in
the coating machine; trays must be reconfigured depending on
board size
Step 3: Load circuit boards in the tray  
Step 4: Wait as the machine applies the Coating
(or apply the coating manually)
Step 5: Double-check that the coating was correctly applied if the operator
used the machine
Step 6: Remove the masking from the board and apply touch-up coating
to areas where the coating was removed by the masking
Step 7: De-panel the boards  
Step 8: Bag and tag the boards  


Equipment Issues

This investigation also revealed that the production staff distrusted the automatic coating machine because they experienced regular problems with its performance. The production team had found it faster to manually apply the coating. When they used the machine, they spent time double-checking that the boards were coated correctly. 


Ineffective Production Goal

Although the conformal coating team had a daily output goal that was tracked at morning standup meetings, there was no easy way to see how each work station within the team was performing to meet the overall goal.  In addition, there was no easy way to identify throughout the day whether the team was on track to meet their goal. 



Implementation of Improvements

The team identified that step two was a time-waster. Not all the boards are the same size, requiring the tray to be reconfigured several times daily. Purchasing more trays and keeping them configured to fit a certain board size eliminated this task, saving huge amounts of time.


Step five was caused by poor programming and equipment performance. Once the automatic coating machine was properly reprogrammed and calibrated, it consistently applied the coating, meaning step five could be eliminated and the team did not need to rely on manual application as frequently.

Step six is now split into two tasks. One person is dedicated to removing the masking, while another person is assigned to applying the touch-up coating. The final step of bagging and tagging the circuit boards was moved to the material handling department, which is dedicated to this function.


Other improvements include redesigning step one, masking, which is separated between auto-coating and manual coating customers, with visual signals (Kanbans) from each signaling the need for additional boards. 

Every station now has Kanban triggers letting the operators know when to start and stop their activities allowing for a controlled flow of product.  Another important addition was the hour-by-hour output metric charts that identify how the team is doing at the de-masking and CC-Out route steps.  This enables the team to identify within an hour if they are behind or on target for that day versus waiting until the next day to find out they did not meet the goal.  


New, Improved Conformal Coating Process


Step Task
Step 1: Mask boards (manual or autocoat) based on Kanban signals  
Step 2: Load circuit boards in pre-built trays; do complicated boards first,
then easier boards later
Step 3: Wait for the machine to apply the coating; use the manual process
only by exception
Step 4: Remove the masking from the board  
Step 5: Apply touch-up coating to areas where the coating was removed in
masking removal
Step 6: De-panel the boards  


Objective Viewpoints are Valuable

To capture more ideas on how to improve the process, and based on the Lean Kaizen culture, the team invited employees who did not work on the product line to be part of the review team. “It was very beneficial to have people who were not close to the process be included in the meetings,” said James Schemel, Director of Production and Repair. “They often asked the best questions because they were trying to understand why we were doing things a certain way. They offered their objective viewpoint, which often helped us improve our process.”


Production Goals Are Now Hourly and Visible

The production goal is now broken down by hourly goals. The teams report their progress by the hour on a large board in the work area, and green, yellow and red status lights in each station indicate that station’s progress. If the team displays a yellow or red light, the production manager and staff can determine together what actions can be taken to get the team back on track.


Visible Process Accelerates Training

At each work station, the process has been made clearly visible, and each person is cross-trained on the other steps. The visual aids help get people up to speed quicker.  All team employees have signed off on the revision controlled line design, which is posted in the cell, ensuring it will be followed by all until an improved design is agreed upon and documented.


Consistent Production Goal Achievement and Improved Team Morale

The production team is now consistently meeting its production goals and team morale has improved. Using the key learnings from this project, the company is embarking on its next continuous improvement project.


RevAZ's mission is to make every Arizona manufacturer the most successful business it can be. From customized operational and business solutions, concrete advice to training and hands on assistance, RevAZ's expert team is here to help you achieve your business goals in the most cost effective manner possible.