Not long after Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture joined the company two years ago, he made a remark that sticks with employees today.
"We are doing mediocre things slowly," he told them in a meeting.
The economic downturn had hit, and improvements were needed across every function in order to be more competitive, Boisture said during an interview earlier this month.
"The company didn't need to be as large as it was if the market is 40 percent smaller," Boisture said.
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Resizing was needed to meet lower demand. Costs needed to be cut. And tough decisions had to be made.
"We're in a rock fight with a lot of foreign competitors and U.S. competitors," said Bill Brown, executive vice president for global operations.
The company embarked on a transformation it called Project Challenge.
A downturn makes it easier to make large-scale changes, he said, and when the market improves the company will be ready to pick up the pace.
"While we produce good, quality aircraft, we didn't do it very efficiently," said Jeff Jones, vice president for safety, quality and manufacturing technology.
Building an airplane took longer. Work was done out of sequence.
Processes weren't standardized, and lines weren't set up for lean manufacturing.
"We tended to inspect quality into the product before we put it off of the production line," Jones said. "That's not a very efficient way of doing business."
Last year's big decisions — the planned closing of Plants 1 and 2 and the move of work to Mexico and outside suppliers — received a lot of attention.
So did $45 million in incentives from the state, city and county in exchange for keeping the company and 4,000 jobs in Wichita.
Many changes were not as visible but were still significant.
"You've got to look at everything," Brown said. "You've got to drive out waste and drive up quality."
Hawker Beechcraft has realigned and consolidated production lines to help with flow.
Before, Hawker 4000 production was jammed in with King Airs, Brown said. The Premier was in the middle.
"If we were going to implement lean, we were set up wrong," Brown said.
Movement of the aisles and the lines went smoothly, he said.
Now, the Premier and 4000, both composite airplanes, are built on the same line. The assembly processes are similar, so it makes sense, Brown said.
Engineers were moved closer to production in case problems arise.
And a way to give employees feedback on the factory floor was put into place. Each work area posts daily metrics regarding safety, quality, cost and delivery.
When a job isn't done right — for example, a duct isn't wrapped correctly — a picture of the problem is posted for workers to see how to avoid it in the future, Brown said.
Airplanes can't be moved to the next assembly station until everything is fixed and ready.
"We're building the airplane as it was designed to be built — in station — rather than deferring issues to perhaps the end of the line," Jones said.
A reward system was also put into place, with teams competing for rewards in exchange for innovative improvements.
As a result, the company spent more than $40,000 last year on gift cards and lunches as recognition for efficiency improvements.
"We weren't looking for change, we were looking for transformational behavior," Brown said. "We had to get radical. We had to pay a lot of money to do it, but we got it back in spades."
A year ago, Hawker spent $800,000 to remodel and move its training center from a gym to another facility, add equipment and develop curriculum.
The training is for all production employees.
The biggest challenge has been in its acceptance.
Some have worked at the company for decades.
"They say, 'I don't need to be trained,' " Jones said. "But once they go through the training, they're our strongest advocates."
The drawings, systems and airplanes have changed.
"We don't accept tribal knowledge anymore," Brown said.
The company is also standardizing procedures.
For example, riveting done in Plant 1 was done differently in Plant 3. That made it difficult when an employee moved to another line.
The state is giving Hawker Beechcraft $10 million over three years in tuition reimbursement and training of employees beyond what's happening inside the plant.
"This is a gift to our people to create a future," Brown said. "And they have embraced it."
More than 115 employees enrolled in college-level courses for the spring semester as a result of the state program.
"We moved very fast," Boisture said.
Money will also be used for employee technical knowledge and skills training.
Fewer scraps, reworks
Scrap, repair and rework are down.
Last year, the company saved $16 million in waste on a unit-by-unit basis from all the improvements, Brown said.
The man hours it takes to build a Hawker 4000 have fallen significantly.
And the time it takes to move a King Air from station to station along the line has fallen from hours to minutes, Brown said.
Working in teams, employees are coming up with ways to do things better.
"They're looking at everything they do now, how they drill a hole, how they jack an airplane, how they drive a cart by an airplane, how they stack that part on the shelf," Brown said.
Their efforts are saving the company millions of dollars a year, Brown said.
This month, all employees received 1.7 weeks of additional pay in a bonus for meeting last year's performance goals.
"We have at least a line of sight on where excellence is," Boisture said. "And we've got a positive trajectory toward getting there."
This year's goals are well defined, said Mike Hammond, director of new programs production. It's to reduce inventory, become more agile and have the ability to get products to market faster.
"We need to become more entrepreneurial in what we need to do," Hammond said. "Believing is 90 percent of the battle."