Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control at Orlando: IW Best Plants Profile 2007

Dec. 14, 2007
In Service of the "Ruby Gods": Extremely precise tolerances drive innovation and standard work at Lockheed Orlando.

Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control at Orlando, Orlando, Fla.

Employees: 4,154, union

Total Square Footage: 2,667,638

Primary Product/market: targeting and detection systems for the defense industry

Start-up: 1957

Achievements: EPA National Environmental Performance Track; National Safety Council Excellence Achievement award; 100% on-time delivery, 99% ROIC

To get from the main machining room and into the precision machining room at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Orlando Operations, one passes through an airlock. One also passes from the past and into the future of high-tech machining.

IW's 2007 Best Plants

See the other winners of IW's 2007 Best Plants award and find out how they made the top ten.

This isn't your ordinary shop floor by any stretch. Gone are the scrap bins, as there is no need for them. "On a good day, each of the precision machines produces enough scrap to fill the palm of your hand," says Brian Kubik, senior manager of the Machining Operations Center.

The airlock is to maintain the carefully climate-controlled production environment, as are the tinted windows (installed to keep the sun's rays from shining on the machines and parts and expanding them beyond the range of the ultra-precise tolerances). This fight for extreme precision extends into the type of machine used for certain operations, for instance using vertical-spindle boring mills instead of the horizontal type (the vertical spindles have higher accuracy, Kubik says, "because unlike the horizontal type, they're not fighting gravity in their work.")

Lockheed Orlando's testing stations are comprised of cutting-edge coordinate measurement machines (CMM), through which every machined part must pass before leaving the precision room. The test equipment array has been dubbed the "ruby gods" because of the ruby tips on the end of each of the contact probes.

This area of the plant has seen a number of significant process improvements, such as a joint product development with the machine tool and metrology manufacturers to build metrology capability into the production equipment. The result is a combined machining/testing capability that produces parts that don't need to be carted back and forth between production and test stations, eliminating huge drags of time and keeping expensive equipment and labor (these are highly-skilled employees) from remaining idle in the process -- as well as reducing defects through improved conformance validation.

A highly skilled machinist operates a vertical spindle boring mill in the precision machining room at Lockheed Martin's Orlando operation.

"Each part used to require multiple trips to the CMM; now that's taken out of the process," Kubik says. "The rate of defects per unit in the last production lot was 0.5, which is a great improvement from the 13.8 DPU we experienced on this part prior to on-board metrology."

The precision machining area has also undergone a standard work improvement around the concept of using a dedicated tool magazine, which allows the operators to concentrate on making the parts themselves, instead of making the tools to make the parts.

"The average part can have 60 or 70 different geometries of tools, with every machinist building his own," says Kubik. "As capacity increases, we can't afford the time for the spindles to be idle while our machinists build tools."

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A New Meaning for Factory 'Flow'

Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando embraces a philosophy of total plant floor equipment and personnel flexibility.

The "no monument" rule that has been adopted at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando is admirable for a number of reasons, disaster recovery least among them.

Picture this scene: It's the Friday before the week in which some of your most valued customers, including a cadre of high-ranking military brass (and one IndustryWeek reporter) are coming to visit your plant for a celebration of its operational excellence. You've been preparing for this, and everything's in top shape, running like the well-oiled machine you've carefully nurtured through a multitude of kaizen events and a total plant-floor redesign, when in a utility room a contractor driving a motorized lift takes a wrong turn and backs into a water main, snapping the pipe and sending 300,000 gallons of water streaming onto your shop floor.

This plant manager's worst nightmare recently came to life in the Fire Control Factory at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando. "The guy who did it took one look at the damage and went and turned in his badge," remembers senior manager Mel Schubert, the man responsible for this brand-new, state-of-the-art facility.

Schubert credits the solidarity of the staff, as well as the payoff from the investments that the company made in equipping the plant floor for lean practices, that the Fire Control Factory -- the crown jewel of the Orlando campus -- was back online, dry, and in inspection trim by Monday A.M.

"We had a water world on Friday, but everyone worked through the weekend to get things back in shape," recounts Schubert. "It helped that everything on the plant floor is moveable. We just pushed everything to the north end, cleaned and mopped up, then moved everything to the south end and did the same."

The philosophy of total plant floor equipment and personnel flexibility (also known as the "no monument" rule around the FCF) that has been put into place in a number of Orlando operations is admirable for a number of reasons, disaster recovery least among them. Being able to move everything from production cells to kitting carts to baking ovens around to optimal configurations for whatever products are in highest demand has allowed the defense contractor to keep up with what is frankly an exploding global demand for many different products at many different times.

As an example to shoot for, the Fire Control Factory team benchmarked against Dell's fabled customer-driven, just-in-time line. "We liked the short lead time and the ability to change product mix on a dime," says Schubert. The lean program was driven by the fact that many orders are of indefinite duration and indefinite quantity and fluctuate rapidly in number in a high-demand, short lead time environment.

To complicate matters further for the FCF, another dynamic that the team is increasingly coming to terms with is the fact that the shelf-life of the technology powering its products is continually shortening.

"It used to be that the same guy would start and retire on a program like Pershing," says Schubert. "Today I get a contract in June, have to do all the design and hardware and close the contract in December."

The results speak for themselves, and the LMCO staff is more than happy to talk about it.

"We can do total factory rearrangements in two hours and fifteen minutes," Schubert says with a smile. "Lean is making the manufacturing process part of the value stream, and a strategic advantage for the company."

Shadowboxing Students

One of the precepts guiding the principle of continuous improvement is that every employee participates in the process, and each employee is a potential source for suggestions that could save the company millions in cost avoidance or materials reduction.

But how about employees you haven't even hired yet?

One of the greatest strengths of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando's specific operations, and of the global defense contracting company in general, lies in educational outreach and excellence in talent management. To help further this corporatewide principle of community engagement (and to indulge his professorial nature), Fire Control Factory senior manager Mel Schubert guest lectures at an industrial design class at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Over the course of the year, Schubert has his class work out answers to everyday projects and (declassified) real-world problems that he himself is struggling with.

For instance, he looked at the inventory system and saw a literal symbol of waste -- plastic ziplock bags used in the kitting process that were a holdover from when some of the unconsolidated inventory used to have to travel outside through the "unpredictable" Florida weather (an earlier process improvement had centralized kitting inventory for the whole facility at the materials handling center). With his own, in-house team busy working in other areas, Schubert had his UCF design students apply their minds to the task and received an innovative solution that will not only eliminate thousands of dollars of plastic from LMCO's cost equation (and perhaps score a couple of bright students some nice-paying jobs at a certain defense contractor's Orlando facility), but will standardize their kitting shadowboxes into four basic shapes, eliminating even more inefficiency from the system.

That this culture of education and training begins within the four walls is evident from touring the facility and hearing how proud the managers are of each hardworking employee. In the Machining Operations Center, senior director Brian Kubik speaks of all his operators like a team of sports stars, saying that the general machining area "is the farm team, where they can train for the precision room." And as for the precision room? "These guys are more like jewelers than machinists," he says.

It's the same in the Optical Components Center, where senior director Paul Moore shares a similar sentiment, but speaks of it in terms of helping to manufacture skill sets. "You just don't find people out in the marketplace that can diamond-turn optics," he says. "We help build that level of skill here."

Finally, back at the Fire Control Factory, Mel Schubert speaks of his company's talent management plans in terms that are as red, white and blue as the flag in the pictures of soldiers that hang on the wall. "Our people can move up from production operator to engineer if they show the initiative," he says. "It refreshes both the salary and hourly ranks, keeps our native knowledge in the building, and motivates people to better themselves, and what could be better than that?"

Bottleneck Be Gone

Investments in new processes and equipment are allowing for level flow and reduced rework, as well as reduced employee frustration, at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando's Optical Components Center.

The Optical Components Center (OCC) at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando is truly a wonder of the high-tech manufacturing world. With millions of dollars invested in ultra-sophisticated technology (everything from vacuum coating chambers that simulate deep space conditions to diamond turning machines capable of holding tolerances to a few millionths of an inch), this facility's commitment to of its targeting systems is beyond contention.

However, even the best technology in the world can't fix a broken process, and that's where lean manufacturing methodology comes in. Pre-kaizen, the OCC had two problems -- one was that increasing demand was causing bottlenecks in a couple key areas, and the second was the difficulty of predicting when a part would be finished. The optics polishing area was an especially impactful bottleneck, with lens polishing production often grinding to a halt while WIP inventory backed up. The solution? A kaizen event that completely re-laid out the entire area into a logical lean flow pattern, preparing the way for increased production and making room for additional equipment to meet demand.

Another bottleneck was occurring in the polishing process. Optics fabrication processes have historically been the province of craftsmen, very labor intensive and due to a craftsman orientation to making parts with the extreme tolerances needed, it was difficult to predict when a part would be finished. In addition, process capability was determined by the skill of the optician and skilled, trained opticians are very difficult to find. Training a master optician can take years. To make the necessary improvements, OCC senior manager Paul Moore says the OCC invested in CNC polishing equipment and that his team transitioned from conventional polishing machines to a CNC process, in the process gaining speed (handling and steps cut by 13%, hardware throughput increased by 53%) and, even more crucially, the type of repeatability that exemplifies the concept of standard work. Operator Scott Clark says that reductions in lost time, scrap and rework are complemented by a decrease in frustration. "Now, the process is much faster, and I'm not beating my head against the wall, which is the best savings of all."

About the Author

Brad Kenney | Chief Marketing Officer

Brad Kenney is the former Technology Editor of IndustryWeek and now serves as director of the mobile/social platforms practice at R/GA, a global marketing/advertising firm in New York City.

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