2003 IW Best Plants Profile: Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors, Syracuse, N.Y.

Feb. 14, 2005
Lean And Teams: More Than Blips Productivity rises as overhead and cycle times fall for plant that nearly fell off the radar.

By John S. McClenahen 

At a Glance

  • Plant: 1.6 million square feet (manufacturing: 328,124 square feet)
  • Start-up: 1948

With the exception of rotating radar arrays, the Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors (MS2) six-building facility in Syracuse, N.Y., reminds you of a college campus. The stone-facade buildings are of a certain age, and the grounds are of a time about 60 years ago when industrial parks emphasized parks over industrial.

However, inside MS2-Syracuse's two primary production buildings, in what once was part of General Electric Co.'s Electronics Park complex, the look, the thinking, and the ways that people work are clearly not of the past. From lean practices to team-based problem solving, these are places on the cutting edge of manufacturing in the production of radar, sonar and sensor systems.

These are places that have embraced Six Sigma quality principles and where black belts and green belts, the folks on the frontline in the highly disciplined process of developing and delivering near-perfect products, are active and involved leaders.

These are places where the application of lean manufacturing principles has eliminated a total of 26 miles -- the length of a marathon long-distance race -- from the in-plant workflow in the production of ground-based and airborne radar systems.

MS2-Syracuse is a facility where during the past three years, $20 million in productivity and overhead savings was returned to the business, as the overhead rate was cut by 16% and the shop cycle time for a ground-based radar system was reduced to less than five months from 10 months while continuing a single-shift operation. Productivity has increased 41% during the last three years.

"The goal is to never be satisfied with where we are now," states Robert O. Fiorentini, director of manufacturing operations at MS2-Syracuse.

Even the name MS2-Syracuse is new. On Aug. 4, the Syracuse facility, formerly known as Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems-Syracuse, got the new name as Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp. announced the further integration of its naval electronics and surveillance systems units into a renamed single business enterprise.

MS2-Syracuse's achievements would be remarkable in a mass-production facility, a place where annual output is measured in the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of units. They are even more remarkable because MS2-Syracuse is not a mass-production manufacturer. Under contract to customers in 38 countries, it custom builds complex products such as ground-based radar systems that can cost in the tens of millions of dollars and take months to make.

Total production leadtime -- from acquiring components to delivering product to a customer -- is 14 to 18 months for a ground-based radar system, 14 months for an airborne radar, and nine to 11 months for an undersea towed listening array. MS2-Syracuse's "evolution to excellence" -- that's what they call it -- is a multilayered and continuing process that has required major changes in thinking and practices for both management and production workers.

The catalyst for change was the realization during the poor business environment of the mid-1990s that unless the facility drove down its costs and reduced its cycle times, it couldn't be competitive in world markets. Going out of business was on the radar screen.

The process of change, reinforced since 1999 by a corporatewide commitment to process improvement, began in 1997 when an operations manager and an experienced quality engineer were sent to black belt training to see what it was all about. Like Mikey of the television cereal commercial, they really liked it, and excitement over the prospect of implementing the quality-improvement tools in Syracuse led to three weeks of full-time black belt training for 20 others.

That was followed by a session for the facility's senior leadership, a one-day overview of Six Sigma quality improvement tools called Knowledge Based Management designed to give leaders an understanding of how they could deploy their newly trained black belts.

In 1998, MS2-Syracuse scrapped its traditional functional structure, began to lean its operations and organized by value streams. Process engineers and assembly workers began getting Six Sigma green belt training in 1999. Kaizen events began in 2000. In 2000 and 2001, moves were made to physically align ground-based radar and airborne radar flows into value streams. In 2001, cell-level teams were aligned to value streams.

Teams -- both cell teams of cross-trained workers and quality performance teams of cross-trained finance, quality and engineering personnel that assist the cell teams -- are fundamental to what MS2-Syracuse is doing to continuously improve its performance.

"It's a very focused workforce," says manufacturing operations director Fiorentini, recalling his first impressions when he arrived in Syracuse. "We have an excellent educational system in this area. And it was evident to me that these people were very intelligent. They understood business metrics. And it was incumbent upon us as a leadership team to be able to capture that and be accountable to them to make sure that we are doing everything to make them successful and, in turn, make our customers successful."

He boldly claims: "Workforce teaming has successfully engaged the intellect of every production employee to increase profit margins and reduce cycle times on existing product lines and to assure that new products can, in fact, be made."

Although there was initial skepticism among union membership and leadership, teams designed to leverage the knowledge of MS2-Syracuse's workforce have proved to be an unqualified success, says Mike Labulis, president and business agent of IUE-CWA Local 320. Their concern: Greater efficiency would mean fewer people.

"We have actually added people with the teaming process -- not a lot, but a couple here and there," relates Labulis.

What's more, by capitalizing on the knowledge of workers, the production process "flows easier and is more organized," he says. "Who knows how to organize it better than the people that are actually doing it?" he asks.

The vast majority -- 26 of 29 at last count -- of the teams at MS2-Syracuse are headed by workers who are union members. "That's something that we pushed for. People have stepped up to the plate, and it has worked to both [management's and labor's] benefits," says Labulis.

Indeed, in the ground-based radar cell that senior assembler Rose Thomas leads, there's a printed sign that simply expresses the committed "can do" environment that lean manufacturing and team initiatives have helped produce at MS2-Syracuse. It reads: "We aren't Domino's, but we do deliver."

Web-Exclusive Best Practices

ByJohn McClenahen

Benchmarking contact: Robert Fiorentini, director of manufacturing operations, [email protected], 315/456-6802

Workcell Team Boards In the beginning, work-cell display boards were a way to communicate basic production information to work-cell team members at Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors (MS2), Syracuse. Data like throughput. Like a skills chart showing who's qualified to do which jobs in the facility's cross-functional environment. Like identifying what's built in a cell and indicating the next step in system assembly.

"It's been key for people to understand the flow so that they can move material on to the next stage," explains Don Hoffmann, a value stream leader for ground-based radar at MS2-Syracuse. "They know where the pull is coming from."

But the 4-foot by 8-foot workcell team boards no longer serve as centers of information only for employees. They also serve, as part of a deliberate "visual factory" design, to communicate basic data to customers and other MS2-Syracuse visitors. To the extent possible, particularly within a value stream, metrics are consistently placed on workcell team boards.

"If it's a quality metric or a defect metric, it's in the same place on the board," notes Hoffmann. 

Minority Mentoring Since the 1990s, Lockheed Martine Maritime Systems & Sensors (MS2), Syracuse, has participated in the INROADS program to help talented minority students make the transition from high school through college and into the workplace. This past summer 17 interns took part, 15 of them working in MS2-Syracuse's radar business and two in its undersea sensor business.

"One of the big opportunities it presents to us is to be able to identify some very talented individuals who are interested in engineering or other kinds of work that we may have," says Robert D. Tucker, vice president for human resources at MS2-Syracuse. "It [is] an opportunity for us not only to help with some kids who are very motivated, but [it] also helps us in that it provides a source of talent for the future."

MS2-Syracuse has hired four of its former interns during the past couple of years and expects to make offers of full-time jobs to all four college seniors currently in its program. MS2-Syracuse continues to regard its commitment to INROADS as a long-term investment.

"Certainly every year has its own drivers and its own needs, [but] we look at this as a program that's going to be providing us talent four years [or] five years down the road and we can't look at it from the perspective of what our immediate business situation might be," Tucker says. Based in St. Louis, INROADS Inc. is an international organization with more than 60 offices serving about 5,000 interns in more than 900 companies.

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!