Absolutely! In fact, Boeing actively applies Lean Six Sigma to its processes, as do many of its suppliers. See this recent article from “Global Manufacturing.” The story proclaims that “In 1998 it took Boeing 71 days to assemble its 777 aircraft – today it takes just 37. . . .the aerospace giant also managed to shave an incredible nine days off the final assembly of its 737, going from 20 days to 11.”

Here’s a specific process example from the same article that demonstrates the Lean concepts of “creating flow” and managing constraints in order to increase throughput:

“Plant engineers struggled with a time-consuming bottleneck due to having to lift the plane’s [757] heavy seats up to its doorway and inside for installation. Once the seats came to the plant, they were fitted with wheels, lifted by an overhead crane to the airplane doorway, unloaded, rolled into the cabin, divested of their wheels and finally installed. The process from beginning to end took 12 hours.

Members of Boeing’s ‘Moonshine Shop’ – a team of people tasked with developing ideas in late night thinking sessions – began searching for a more effective process. They asked the question: “If not cranes, then what?”

The team attended county fairs and studied Ferris wheels; they looked at ski lifts and automated roofing carriers but nothing quite fit the bill. Eventually one of the team members mentioned the hay loaders on farms near his home. Could they be adapted to ferry heavy seats up to the plane for installation?

The team began looking into the workings of hay loaders and finally found a rancher who could develop a viable machine that met their exact specifications, adding safety guards. The new hay loader was put into production and shaved an astonishing 10 hours off seat installation.”

For more examples, check out this video for the 737. It steps through the application of Lean in building this aircraft and shows examples of reducing waste related to transportation and motion, along with demonstrating:

It also looks like they have the “hay loader” in operation in this aircraft.

Since all work is a process, and Lean Six Sigma on improving processes, you can apply the principles to any industry.

Carol Knight-Wallace

For more than 25 years, Carol Knight-Wallace has been helping organizations in the public and private sectors achieve excellence through Lean Six Sigma application, project management, strategic planning, and facilitation. Her experience includes Fortune 100 financial services companies, healthcare, manufacturing, government, non-profit, and higher education.