Improvement Tool Helps Reduce Potential Failures in the Hardware Build Process

Orbital Sciences employs a bill of process to lower risks and improve work instructions.

How often do you make decisions based on "gut feel"? And how confident are you those decisions are the best ones?

For Orbital Sciences Corp., reducing the reliance on gut feel was the impetus for the company's implementation of its "bill of process" tool in 2008. The tool helps Orbital Sciences quantify the risks associated with its hardware build processes and ultimately mitigate those risks, explains Ed Kestel, senior operations manager at Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Dulles satellite manufacturing facility. In addition, it promotes problem-solving and best practices sharing to improve processes.

"One of the key points of this process is that it takes subject-matter experts who have subjective ideas and gives you quantifiable results," says Kestel, who also is the operational excellence champion for Orbital Sciences' Technical Operations East.

The bill of process (BoP) originally was developed to identify potential risks for first-time builds. Its definition is a mouthful: BoP characterizes production and test process steps by using mathematical analysis to prevent and predict potential failure modes in the workplace.

The BoP Process

It includes three elements: process mapping; process failure mode and effects analysis, or PFMEA; and a process characterization report. Kestel notes that PFMEA has been around for a long while. "Scientists used it in the experimental labs, and we have taken that concept and evolved it into the hardware build processes that we use today," he says. However, instead of the "p" meaning potential, "we use it as process."

So, who uses BoP and how does it work?

The who is anyone in the organization who creates work instructions, standard operating procedures and test plans. For example, at Orbital it could be the manufacturing engineer who receives a drawing from the design team and then has to plan how that product is going to be made. That engineer would use the bill of process to identify any potential risks that may cause a mistake.

"So you need subject-matter experts who can mentally walk through the build process," Kestel says.

It all begins with the creation of a process map, which then is translated into process steps. For example, one of the potential steps within a cleaning process could be to wash the part in alcohol. The BoP raises and addresses the question: Is there a risk in washing with alcohol, and how big is that risk?

Multiple Perspectives are a Must

By no stretch is the BoP the task of a single individual. While the manufacturing engineer may be key, the BoP relies on a cross-functional team comprised of anyone who regularly works or may work on a process, including the technicians who actually build the product.

"If you just have one or two people that are performing this, you are going to see only one or two views," Kestel says. "The more views you have, and more angles and perspectives you have on the process, the brighter the picture."

As mentioned previously, the BoP also includes process failure modes and effects analysis, which is a systemized group of activities to recognize in advance potential failure modes and their effects, and to identify actions to eliminate or reduce those potential failures.

The BoP's third element -- a process characterization report -- includes a summary of the process mapping exercise, an outline of any findings or concerns that could have negative consequences, and recommended actions.

What follows is a peer review, at which the recommended actions are reviewed, and OK'd or modified. If the recommended action includes a significant cost outlay, it triggers a cost-benefit analysis.

Once the recommended actions are implemented, Kestel says, "the same team then has to go back through and analyze the results of that to identify any additional or new risks that may come about because of the process change and to validate that the initial potential risks are eliminated."

While the BoP was developed to address first-time builds, it's use has since expanded to mature product lines as well. "When we have non-conformances, we will use this to identify risks as part of our root cause analysis along with other tools."

For mature products, BoP may also be used to help mitigate schedule risk or quality risk. For example, "we may want to go and look at ways that we can cut the duration of the builds by 20% and look at it from the perspective risk of what's causing the most schedule slips," he says. Kestel says the bill of process also has been applied at suppliers to identify and reduce potential risks.

The bill of process has been beneficial for the company. Kestel says the BoP has helped Orbital improve its first-pass yields by 10% and reduce costs by 20% since its methodologies were implemented in 2008.

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