There is an old saying that no aircraft is ready to fly until the paperwork equals the takeoff weight. While locked in the dogfight for the $200 billion Joint Strike Fighter contract, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. (Fort Worth, TX) decided to do something about it.

At its mile-long factory, the company is rolling out plantwide systems for computer-aided process planning and electronic work instructions, plus a manufacturing execution system to drive the electronic work instructions. They will serve 3,000 to 4,000 workers at more than 1,100 work areas in the cavernous U.S. Air Force Plant 4. Virtually everything workers now get on paper will be on computer screens.

Russell W. Ford, vice president of aerostructures manufacturing, is convinced electronic work instructions offer big payoffs. He is determined to make manufacturing a strategic competitive weapon. “Most other aerospace companies,” he points out, “look at manufacturing as a necessary evil.”

The computer-aided process planning implementation is a 3-year re-engineering project affecting 59 manufacturing information applications. Some are 25 years old, while some code dates back to the 1960s. Virtually all is still on mainframes.

Software for the three systems is from HMS Software Inc. (Concord, MA). If all goes according to plan, the process planning system will be fully operational by early 2002. Full-up factory floor electronic work capability, driven by the manufacturing execution system, is planned for late 2002.

The International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM) represents Lockheed’s workers. IAM contracts allow laid-off workers to “bump” less senior workers in other areas. This can trigger a ripple of job changes throughout the plant. Large numbers of people suddenly find themselves in new jobs. This makes the electronic work instructions more important than ever. Without the electronic work instructions, a single shop order typically requires a 2-inch-thick stack of paper.

Lockheed’s executives see six benefits by using this new system:

  • Tracking work precisely and quickly so it can be paid promptly under its percentage-completion contracts.
  • Accelerating all information flows and cutting the learning curve time lag to minutes from 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Shrinking the “hidden factory,” which is rework that typically accounts for up to 30 percent of total aerospace manufacturing costs.
  • Driving down nonconformance costs, such as component substitutions and process variables.
  • Linking work instruction visuals to their supporting documents for real-time access from the factory floor and for online training.
  • Dealing with Lockheed’s workforce, which has an average age of 56.
At the pilot project in Area 1121, gains are dramatic. Area 1121 workers install about 120 different wiring harnesses in the F-16’s forward fuselage and cockpit, the most complicated part of the aircraft. “Work that took 16 days now takes 10,” said John C. Casey, a Lockheed analyst for build process standardization.

For more information on software programs, call HMS Software Inc. at 781-890-2811, visit or Reply 3.