Driving down K-15 in southeast Wichita, its easy to spot the new construction at Spirit AeroSystems.
Two expansions under way will give Spirit extra room to meet increases in 787 Dreamliner and 737 production.
The most noticeable of the expansions, the construction visible from K-15, will allow Spirit to add equipment to produce additional composite barrels of the 787s forward section. Boeing said it will triple 787 production this year.
A second expansion will make room for 737 jetliner production as Boeing raises rates to 38 airplanes per month by the end of 2012. Last year, Boeing raised 737 production from 31 per month to 35.
The two projects are part of Spirits plan to take on production rate increases on five programs this year. Other programs will also be increasing production.
Thats really our biggest challenge: to go through the rate increases flawlessly, said Mike King, senior vice president and chief operations officer of Spirit AeroSystems.
Spirit is adding 79,000 square feet to its composite fuselage facility for the 787. And its adding 11,400 square feet to Plant 2 for the 737 work. Both projects will be completed this year.
Last year, there was a lot of movement inside the plant to open up space for new production lines for the 737 and new equipment for the 777.
Spirit also hired 1,000 people last year for its worldwide operations, about half of them in Wichita, where Spirit employs about 10,800 people. This year, Spirit plans to hire strategically to fill niches where needed.
It will expand second and third shifts to increase capacity and take on additional work. And Spirit will continue to add equipment, such as high-speed machines.
To get ready for the increases, Spirit will first simulate a new production rate hike about a month before it begins, King said. That way, the company can find any bottlenecks in the process and fix them, he said.
The process is assessed beginning with suppliers, through manufacturing and final assembly to make sure everything is ready and in place, King said.
He calls any bottleneck in the process a Herbie." The name comes from Eliyahu Goldratts book, "The Goal," in which "Herbie" is the name of a fictitious Boy Scout on a hike with his troop. Herbie is the slowest boy on the hike, which holds up the scouts behind him and the entire hike.
"If youve got problems, youll find your Herbies when you go simulate it," King said.
Spirit will be doing quite a bit of simulation this year.
Besides rate increases on the 737, Boeing has announced that 777 production will move from seven planes per a month to 8.3. Spirit builds the 777s forward section, pylons and nacelles.
The 787 Dreamliner will move from two per month on its way to seven by the end of the year. Spirit builds the forward section, stuffed with the flight deck, pilot seats and everything needed to complete the section.
King said customers want three things: quality products at a good price and on time.
The quality of our products to our customers will ensure that we have a future, King said.
The site must concentrate on quality beyond the manufacturing floor, he said.
Its really got to be in every process that we do inside the office area, everybody that touches a piece of paper, King said.