August 2012

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Airbus pulls the A350 XWB Andon Cord

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In the dogma associated with lean manufacturing, the Andon Cord holds particularly venerable position in industrial circles. The Andon Cord, coined by Japanese car maker Toyota, places the power of stopping a production line in the hands of each and every employee.

According to Toyota, pulling the cord is done when "a problem on any vehicle is spotted...Only when the problem is resolved is the line restarted. This process involves every team member in monitoring and checking the quality of every car produced"

Airbus, in essence, has pulled its own Andon Cord by pushing back the start of final assembly of MSN001, the first A350-900, to the end of 2011.

Seeking to avoid the production debacle that delayed the A380 two years, chief operating officer Fabrice Bregier says: "when you're not ready, you don't move from one step to another."

According to reporting by Flightglobal, Bregier added that no milestones would commence before maturity. In an aerospace world fixated on concurrent testing and production, such a statement echoes a different approach than we've seen in recent years from many manufacturers, including Boeing and the 787.
A similar Andon-style Cord has been installed on both the Boeing 737 and 777 moving lines for exactly the same purpose. While the moving line instills urgency in the fix, the act of stopping an assembly line is a daunting action, and it places the responsibility for quality at all levels.

In the early years of A380 and 787 production, both Boeing and Airbus found themselves mired in traveled work, the antithesis of lean manufacturing, that required jobs to be performed out of their originally intended assembly sequence while the design was still in flux.

Boeing in particular still struggles with the rework required to prepare 787s for delivery as it aims for a third quarter certification, though the airframer keeps pulling the cord - halting deliveries to final assembly. Even as it heads well past two dozen airframes still performing rework, have the stops accomplished their stated objective?

Airbus may push back final assembly further and first delivery may slip into 2014 as many expect it to, but Bregier bluntly identifies the choice at hand: "Perhaps it's a bit too demanding but, if we do that, it will be much simpler, and I prefer to take a couple more months at this stage to avoid potentially big problems."

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