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NASA is Getting Lean (Part 1)

Posted June 08, 2010 8:44 AM by julie
Pathfinder Tags: lean manufacturing NASA OPF

In addition to my regular job duties as the Taxonomy Manager at Globalspec, I'm involved in Production and Engineering Department initiatives to continuously improve our processes. To achieve this continuous improvement, we use many tools and techniques taken from lean manufacturing. Recently, a colleague (terrapin) and I had the chance to present our lean journey and training methodologies at the Lean Educator Conference in Daytona Beach, Florida at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Part of this conference included a behind-the-scenes tour of NASA and how the space agency is using lean tools and techniques.

OPF – Orbiter Processing Facility

Our first stop on the tour was the Orbiter Processing Facility - or OPF, as they called it. (NASA is really big on using acronyms. After all, their name is one!) Before entering the "OPF", I had no idea what we were going to see. It turned out that the facility is where NASA takes the shuttles that have returned from a mission, and refurbishes them for the next mission.

As we walked in, about 10 feet above our heads stretched an expanse of gray tiles, each one individually numbered. What we were beneath was the underside of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which was being refurbished for its next mission - carrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

Equipment on the underside of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. There are approximately 30,000 unique tiles that make up the hull of the ship, each one is individually numbered.

An example of a lean tool that NASA was successfully able to apply to the OPF is 5S. 5S is a workplace organization methodology that describes how the workspace is Sorted, Straightened, Shined, Standardized and Sustained (hence the 5S's).

Note the taped spaces on the floor indicating where desks and the trashcan belong.

Through the organization that NASA was able to achieve with 5S, the OPF was able to remove 2 tractor trailer trucks of unnecessary supplies and tools, thus freeing up a vast amount of floor space.

Another benefit that NASA realized from the 5S implementation was saving technicians' time by placing the tools that they needed immediately next to the workspace. In short, the technicians no longer had to go looking for the tools that they needed.

--> In this photo you can see supplies located on an upper deck of the frame used to refurbish the space shuttle. Prior to locating the tools here the technicians had to go up and down a flight of stairs each time they needed a new tool or supply.

Next, we'll look at how NASA applied applies lean tools and techniques to the High Bay Clean Room at Goddard Space Flight Center.

Editor's Note: Click here for Part 2 of this series.


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Re: NASA is Getting Lean (Part 1)

06/08/2010 9:13 AM

Thanks for posting this, Julie!

For additional NASA images from Julie and terrapin's trip, click here to view the complete album on CR4_News, our Facebook page.

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Anonymous Poster

Re: NASA is Getting Lean (Part 1)

06/09/2010 4:43 AM

Most of this "lean" stuff is just the application of common sense to practical problems in the workplace. Empowering people to change their workspace usually results in optimisation like seen here (tools in the right place etc.) but enforcing things too much can be a hindrance (e.g. the bin has to be there, where it's marked on the floor). Those trailers full of tools would have been useful once, so it'll probably be found that they're actually sorely missed quite often. The trick here is being able to locate infrequently used items easily! John


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Re: NASA is Getting Lean (Part 1)

06/09/2010 10:00 AM

Not enough "Lean"ing wastes time and money.

Too much leads to failure, death and destruction.

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Re: NASA is Getting Lean (Part 1)

06/10/2010 11:29 AM

Some of these make sense but often it should come down to pure logic how the tools should be kept organised.

As for how to keep the office furnitures on the floor is again might be ok in one instance but might not if a new bench or furniture is added.

It is as if the rate of staff replacement is so frequent that people just wouldn't know unless the floor is pre-marked for everything.

This reminds me of when everybody works only as a contractor, often on a day-to-day basis, and since there's not even a supervisor around they have to rely on their own intuition and 'visual basics' so the new staff would know where things are and what have you.

Is it lean? I do not know, especially after the challenger disaster when it came to light that NASA was charged by contractors $1.80 per wire terminals instead of 3cents.

I guess the pinching effect of recession must be felt by NASA also.

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