Making the best better, one step at a time
“The Meggitt Production System takes Lean to a whole new level,” says Helge Huerkamp.
“With what I know now, I could go back to consultancy and make a heap of money. But if you have the opportunity to make the best even better, why go anywhere else?”
In my time at CAE Inc, I must have done about 12 week-long Kaizen workshops. Pretty much every operational problem you can imagine came up and some great solutions too. But so often, we’d get distracted by other issues before we had time to implement. Later, at McKinsey & Company, we had our standard Lean tools and frameworks that we deployed in 3 months intense project waves.
You don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve got it, of course, but what I realise now is that we didn’t have the full 360° view. At the heart of the Meggitt Production System (MPS) is a set of daily interlocking meetings which cascade information up and down the business, escalating problems and good ideas so they get the attention they need.
Daily layered accountability (DLA), as we call this process, is the glue that holds the many, many components of continuous improvement in the spotlight. At the Meggitt site in Fribourg, Switzerland, the first meetings kick off in each production cell every morning. We run through the same rigorous agenda of safety, quality, delivery, inventory, productivity each day. Any issues are noted down, Living Pareto Boards are updated and anything that needs escalating is taken by the cell leaders to the next meeting. That starts immediately afterwards and also includes representatives from each function.
Using the same agenda, they review and pass on what they find and so on, up to senior management who get a higher altitude view of the whole plant’s performance. We start at 8.30 am and we’re done by 9.30am.
It sounds simple but these meetings have actually turned our approach to OPEX on its head: everyone from sales to compliance and delivery—including top management—is focused on the people who make the product. Poor process, bottlenecks and any other problems are outed immediately because these meetings make responsibility totally transparent. Each of us knows exactly what we have to do and how our work affects others. Making improvements and beating your own record becomes a question of personal pride.
Today, there’s not a single person who wants to miss a DLA meeting. And yet a couple of years ago, we didn’t even know what they were. Fully embedding the process has been hard work and took about a year but there was full support from the start, both here at Fribourg and at group level.
That meant the necessary resources were available and I could go out and find the people I needed. There are lots of highly experienced Lean practitioners out there but most are from organisations where implementation is at a very advanced stage. I needed people who could work in an environment where less was defined. There were only a handful I met who had the spark and energy necessary: one from a hi-tech Swiss medical business, for example, one from a smaller French aerospace businesses and one from Airbus.
A key focus from the start was performance management. I’d seen attempts at getting this right at McKinsey & Company but the tools we have developed here are really delivering.
The first is a monthly review of the one-year plan for the whole site, called SD-Matrix. Thanks to the quality of the data we get from the DLA meetings, we can measure where we are very precisely and fine-tune accordingly.
Five pillars sit right at the heart of MPS, namely, strategy deployment, organisational development, leadership culture, performance management and tools and methods. Progress is measured against set criteria defined across six levels. Before you can move up, you’ve got to hit all the targets across a whole site. It’s seriously demanding. There’s no automatic approval. You’ve got to prove you’re ready.
You have to prove your worth but if you’ve got what it takes, you can move on really fast.
We moved from the foundational initial phase “Red” to the next “Yellow” phase in March 2014 and all 600 of us here in Fribourg joined in the celebrations. We have since move on from “Yellow” into “Green” and recently “Bronze” phase, a continuous journey of improvement across the whole business.
Considering we were the first site to formally launch MPS in the group and the first half of 2013 was taken up with hiring, developing the right culture and reviewing our value streams, I’m proud of how we’re doing. During that review, we realised that although we had five shops on site, we only have three types of customer – sensors and cables, energy electronics, and aerospace systems. Reorganising on that basis meant physically moving 60% of our operations around the site and about 90 people. That was in September 2013 but already we’re seeing big improvements; on time delivery (OTD), for example, is up to 96%.
I believe it’s the unique combination of DLA and our performance management tools in MPS that sets what we’re doing here apart.
But there are other areas we’re focusing on too. Take sales and inventory operations planning. We have transformed our process over the last 4 years and now review our three-yearly sales forecasts monthly. We are reformulating how we translate forecasts into demand for the site and our supply chain.
The goal is to slash inventory by 50% but still keep improving OTD. We’re about half way there on OTD and inventory is down by 10% so, again, progress is good.
In terms of my own learning, I found the 12-month Oxford Leadership Programme hugely rewarding. It consists of three intensives—two at the Said Business School in Oxford and one in Silicon Valley—as well as project work focused on live strategic issues at Meggitt. We present recommendations and an implementation plan to our Board.
Both the content of the course and the networking have pushed me on far quicker than I thought possible and it’s a great example of the kind of opportunities there are here. You have to prove your worth but if you’ve got what it takes, you can move on really fast. It’s partly the culture but also because we’re growing fast.
Looking ahead, our journey to excellence with MPS will again be accelerated by the ‘High Performance Culture’ (HPC) program, which really goes to the heart of our individual behaviors and values. As MPS focuses a lot on the business, HPC is the glue that holds us together, makes us accountable towards each other and really creates an exciting place to work.
Listening to the women in white coats
Jo Richoux and Liz Murphy build and test three-inch cockpit displays and sub-assemblies. The Meggitt Production System has put problem solving in their hands but for them it’s only the beginning.
“We are impatient for change,” they say. “Once you see what’s possible you get hungry for more.”
Eleven years ago when I joined Meggitt Avionics (MAV), shopfloor problem solving wasn’t easy. If your supervisor couldn’t sort something out for you, it could drag on for ages. Work-arounds and make-dos were common.
Looking back, I realise that we just accepted it. You didn’t think that people would listen to your ideas so you just kept quiet and got on with it.
It’s much, much better now. We have a new system of morning meetings which pipe information up and down the business, making it much easier to solve problems. It’s called daily layered accountability. If something can’t be worked out in our 20-minute meeting, it’s noted down on a big board which sits on the shopfloor all day for everyone to see. The problem can’t be ignored or forgotten. It gets escalated and it stays on the board and on the daily meeting agenda until it’s solved.
That’s made a big difference. I remember it being very hard when I couldn’t seem to get my point across. Now, once it’s written on the DLA board, I know that someone has to try and understand what it is I’m getting at.
In a way, that’s the essence of the Meggitt Production System (MPS). Working through a problem in a group, talking it out, guiding each other to a good answer. That philosophy is one of the key reasons MPS has been so well received right across the organisation. Even the sceptics have been won over quickly by the reality.
“I’ve found that as soon as people put the principles of MPS into action, they see the rewards pretty quickly: your day gets easier and you get more out of your life at work”
But we can still do more.
Absolutely. DLA can be hard at first. It requires a certain mind-set. You have to enjoy being more involved and you have to accept that it means more effort. Once you buy into it, you can’t be lazy. You’ve got to get yourself moving. That’s why it’s so important that top people in every factory get involved in workshops on the ground level. It gives us all a chance to learn from and inspire each other. When our Managing Director came to our meetings, I really respected her for it.
I agree. All the strands of the business are interlinked so for MPS to deliver its full potential, we all have to keep pushing. The more we contribute individually, the more we can improve. Of course it helps that it’s not change for change’s sake. It’s responsive change—we make the things we sell here on the shopfloor so we’ve got to have what we need to do it right. That’s what sells it to me.
I’ve found that as soon as people put the principles of MPS into action, they see the rewards pretty quickly: your day gets easier and you get more out of your life at work. It’s common sense, isn’t it? We’re at work for most of the day so we really should try to get as much satisfaction out of it as we can. If you can solve things yourself, there’s a lot more motivation to get on and do it.
It’s a tragedy if your ideas get stuck at the bottom simply because of where you work. That’s still what happens in so many places but we do this job hour after hour, week in, week out. We can see what’ll help to us do it better. We get some good ideas.
It’s been very refreshing seeing them implemented. Now the only frustration comes from wanting more change. Once you see what’s possible you get hungry for more.
Challenge and innovation at every turn
For more than 30 years, Margie Mattingly has been at the forefront of high-temperature accelerometer design. Focusing on Sensing Systems and working with her strongest team ever, she has developed a new product line which delivers world-beating performance at a much lower cost.
I remember the first time I saw an accelerometer in a 600°C oven. The door opened and there was this device, about the size of a walnut. It was vibrating on a shaker and producing a flawless output signal. This thing’s incredible, I thought. Even though it’s glowing red hot, it can reliably measure virtually imperceptible changes in vibration. These devices have found their way onto satellites, the space shuttle, and almost every jet aircraft engine in the world.
I was hooked on the world of high temperatures and I was in exactly the right place to learn more. A number of the world’s leading experts in this area worked in the building and I was fortunate enough to be mentored by them. Within a couple of years, I was overseeing projects. Later, I designed a number of sensors myself such as the first piezoelectric accelerometers.
These mission critical components can operate continuously from – 269 to 760°C and they have a lifespan of about 500,000 hours. Understanding the science to find the right materials, as well as developing the processes and assembly techniques that would allow these sensors to operate in such extreme environments has been a fascinating series of challenges.
Meggitt has developed many industry firsts in sensor design dating back to 1947 when the business was founded under the Endevco name.
One of the reasons for our success is that the company invests heavily in promoting an atmosphere of creative thinking focused on unique but practical product development. That’s also why we can attract such impressive talent: one of my colleagues, Bruce Wilner, recently received a lifetime innovation award from the Shock and Vibration Exchange. He has been with the company for 52 years and holds 30 patents—when you think what an achievement it is to file even one patent, this is a remarkable accomplishment. Our younger engineers aren’t doing too badly either: Tom Kwa holds six patents in areas such as micro pressure and acceleration sensors, some of which are under 0.1mm in size.
Today, being the market leader is still our goal. We’re focusing particularly on expanding in the test and measurement market, partly because in a recession customers monitor their equipment more closely to avoid costly maintenance and increase lifespan. To keep ahead, we’re always looking for ways to reduce overall costs and to add more functionality at low cost.
A number of the world’s leading experts in my area worked in the building. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by them
I wondered, for example, if we could adapt a design from one of our sister companies as a template for a range of low cost, high volume sensors with very high performance. Further inspiration came as I was replacing a threaded fitting in the sprinkler system in my yard which had been run over for the nth time.
I came up with the idea of a sensor pod which threads into a variety of mounting bases. By mixing a few sensors with different bases you can create 15 different types of sensor with varying specialisms. We filed a patent in February 2014 and we launched in September. We’ve now expanded the design’s modularity, allowing us to make many different products at a substantially lower price.
I think these developments are only really possible because of the extraordinary legacy we have. Right now, for example, we have the father of low-noise cabling coming back in to help us upgrade designs for our Swiss facility.
Overall, the strength of our current position is the result of careful but bold acquisition over the years and, today, our expertise is focused on centres of excellence around the world: aircraft sensor and electronics in Switzerland, crystals in Denmark, test and measurement sensors, cable and connectors here in California.
Expertise and innovation isn’t just about our products, though. There are interesting developments on the operational and manufacturing side too. Now we have these high-volume products, we’ve had to look at how we raise output because we’re expecting some big sales this year. There’s room to streamline and we’re having some great discussions about that now.
In all the work I do here, I can see a whole new generation of talent emerging and I am delighted we are laying down the foundations for tomorrow’s breakthroughs. I’m mentoring a very bright engineer and to help her and others that follow, I’ve formalised all I’ve learnt over the years in a training manual. I’ve also developed spreadsheets that can run the complex calculation models we need. That means new joiners will be able to take advantage of the foundation I helped create and then speed past my accomplishments to create their own.
The training I’ve had here has always been strong, from core skills like technical writing to obtaining an MBA. Within a year of getting that degree, I was promoted to an engineering manager and Meggitt has always allowed me to explore different paths – I’ve been programme manager, chief engineer and operations manager, where I was actively involved in compliance issues and classifications.
We have come a long way in high-temperature sensors since that oven door opened to give me my first view. We led the way back then and we’re entering a new phase of firsts today. We’re growing fast and we’re at a point in the evolution of the group as a whole where there are opportunities for energetic and determined engineers to explore more avenues than ever, in sensing systems and beyond.
There’s no doubt in my mind that if I was going to do it all again, I’d come to exactly the same place.
Taming the Barracuda
How do you stop a 20-tonne fighter aircraft coming down the runway at 200mph? Talk to Marc Greenshield, Engineering Services Leader, at our Coventry facility.
Whether it’s a 20-tonne fighter aircraft coming down the runway at 200mph or a large civil aircraft carrying hundreds of passengers, thousands of lives depend on our brakes every day. But I doubt many people know what’s really involved. Did you know that aircraft brakes can hit temperatures well over 1000°C, for example?
I get the opportunity to work on these issues every day. Our biggest challenge is to combine high performance and reliability with the lowest possible weight so the aircraft uses less fuel.
In 2004, Cassidian – the makers of the Tornado and the Typhoon – came to us with a new, top-secret brief. They were making a prototype of an unmanned aircraft designed to test reconnaissance, targeting and battle damage assessment technology.
We were only given what we needed to know. No more. We didn’t even know what it was going to look like. Our first challenge was to define exactly what Cassidian wanted. Barracuda, as it came to be known, was a test bed for new technologies. One focus was to replace hydraulic technology wherever possible with electric alternatives.
It was the first unmanned aircraft and the first electric brake we worked on, so inevitably a number of unexpected problems arose. Yet we were still up against a very demanding schedule. I’ll never forget the moment when we saw the aircraft for the first time. It was assembled in a remote location in Germany and it’s a formidable looking machine to say the least. I visited the site a lot when we were working on integration and the German engineers were extremely professional – as demanding and exacting as you might expect.
We were confident our product would deliver, however, as we’d been investing in electric braking research for nearly ten years. We built on our expertise in performance, weight and reliability as well as working to simplify overall systems architecture on the aircraft.
There were many tests in Germany and Spain as the maiden test flight approached. We didn’t know exactly when it would be – that was secret too – but when we finally heard the news, we were delighted.
Barracuda had successfully completed a 30-minute flight and, as we discovered later, our equipment had performed perfectly.
The attitude here has always been the same: if you’ve got good ideas and you want to get ahead, you step forward
As I have moved up the company, I’ve gone from working on specific projects like Barracuda to play a more strategic role. We’ve spread our design and manufacturing globally to reduce costs and extend our working day. We now have 50 Meggitt design engineers in our facility in Bangalore, for example.
That frees up our most innovative engineers in Europe and the US to develop the technologies and products of tomorrow. And our increased network also helps us find the best experts wherever they are around the world.
We’ve got huge opportunities for new graduates, particularly as we expand into nose wheel steering, landing gear control and tyre pressure monitoring systems. There are big challenges for engineers as the complexity of our systems and their integration increases.
I’ve spent my whole career here and even as we’ve grown to be a world leader in more and more areas, the attitude has always been the same: if you’ve got good ideas and you want to get ahead, you step forward. The support and the opportunity are always there.
I joined Meggitt in April 2021, when our brand new Headquarters at Ansty Park facility was reopening after the pandemic. I am lucky enough to work within Information Technology Group (ITG) which is the core enabling function to deliver change at Meggitt.
I have over 15 years of Project/Programme and Transformation Management experience and I joined Meggitt because of the vast opportunities that they had to offer. My initial research pointed heavily towards Meggitt and their enormous presence within the aerospace marketplace, but with customers all over the world that rely on our technology, product and services for flight, power and defence, I could not wait to join Meggitt.
The thing I enjoy most about Meggitt is the diversity of my role. Every day is different and not many people can boast about the opportunities that each day presents at work. At Meggitt I can be part of the change journey and influence the opportunities that are created by ITG.
Our ITG family is growing and I’m proud to be part of a professional group of individuals that tenures span from less than 1 month to 40 years plus. Every one of us is unique and brings their own style and strengths which contributes to our continuous improvement journey that our function is on. My colleagues will always ask why I am so positive and passionate about driving the change within ITG, but my answer is simple, Meggitt has proven that regardless of the recent pandemic, we have remained a strong organisation and we can adapt, we can be resilient and we stand with our customers to overcome the recent hard times.
Every day at Meggitt and in particular working within ITG, enables me to challenge the unchallengeable, to think differently, avoid the ‘easy answers’, and create a new landscape of possibilities for all my colleagues and customers. Historically people and technology form strange partnerships, but with our ITG family continually building on their knowledge and learn from their past mistakes, they are more effective, efficient, and empowered to innovative. The team truly value my well-being and development, and effortlessly reinforce a people centric culture that will allow me to flourish in a post-lock down economy. I am confident that during my career at Meggitt I will be enabled to deliver consistent and outstanding results, and be part of a culture that is continuously learning and improving.
If you’d like to follow in Georgina’s footsteps and be part of the transformation journey at Meggitt – check out our job opportunities today!