Tightening Up Torque Standards Saves Boeing $200,0000+

SAN JOSE, CA /PRNewswire/ -- In aerospace projects, there are no "do overs." Even minor errors can prove expensive or deadly. NASA's $125 million Mars Climate Observer burned up in the Martian atmosphere when the manufacturer gave NASA English measurements for thrust, rather than the metric units NASA was used to. A loose piece of foam cost seven shuttle astronauts their lives.

But careless mishaps also take place on the manufacturing floor. In 2003, for example, the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's $233 million NOAA-N Prime weather satellite was severely damaged by falling three feet to a concrete floor at Lockheed Martin's satellite factory in Sunnyvale, Calif. When one crew failed to document that it had removed two dozen bolts from a cart used to turn the satellite over, and the other crew failed to follow procedures and check if the bolts were in place before moving the satellite, the end result was a $135 million repair bill.

Missing bolts, then, can certainly be a problem. But so are over or undertorqued bolts and rivets. That's why Six Sigma Black Belt Vu D. Pham of Boeing took on the task of improving the accuracy of the torquing at his plant. Along the way, he not only improved the accuracy, but by using a PDA- based calibration verification system from Mountz, Inc. of San Jose, CA also found a way to save the company a lot of money.

"We calculate that real savings for the first year was a couple hundred thousand dollars," says Pham, Leader of Engineering Assurance at Boeing's Satellite Development Center (SDC) in El Segundo, CA. "This is just the raw savings of not sending tools out for calibration, and doesn't include our savings on failures, repairs and personnel costs."

In December 2006, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems (S&IS) was named as one of the two Gold-level recipients of the California Awards for Performance Excellence (CAPE), the statewide equivalent of the Malcolm Baldrige Award. (SDC is a part of S&IS.)

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