"Quality" is made of tiny details
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This is a translation of the original article in Russian

Life at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aviation plant (KnAAZ) is returning to its normal flow. Severe nature could not overcome the "line of defence" erected by factory workers and the plant was not affected by the floods. We visited KnAAZ when the water level had just started to grow near Komsomolsk. The same date when the Russian Air Force day is celebrated, the branch of JSC "Sukhoi Civil Aircraft" located in Komsomolsk held its "Open Day" event. This is the place where the civil airliner Sukhoi Superjet 100 is produced. While city dwellers were enjoying the beauty of modern design ideas, I was able to talk with Dmitry Bloshinsky, department manager at the JSC "SCA". (14 October 2013)

Dmitry Bloshinsky

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Head of the Komsomolsk-on-Amur branch of "Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company". Born in 1971 in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Graduated from the Kharkov Aviation Institute in 1994, speciality — "Design and manufacture of radio-electronics of aircraft." From 1994 to 2008 Dmitry worked at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant, where he started as a design engineer and through years reached the position of the first deputy chief designer. In 2008 he became chief engineer of the Komsomolsk-on-Amur branch of JSC "Sukhoi Civil Aircraft". In 2009 he was appointed the first deputy director of the branch - the chief engineer. Since February 2013 Dmitry has been the director of the Komsomolsk-on-Amur branch of "Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company" .

— Dmitry, what sort of event is being held today at your company?

We decided to hold the "Open day". The main target group of this event are our own employees, who can bring their families and show where they spend most of their time. The second important goal is to attract additional workforce to our plant. The company is in a phase of rapid growth. This year we have had a monthly grow rate of about 15-20 percent. Our goal is to double the production output in the next three years. Besides organizational and technical measures we implement, we have to attract a significant number of skilled workers. Or bring new workers to the plant, so they can gain skills here.

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That's why we hope that people will come today and see our working conditions. In fact, we are proud of the conditions that we have created here. Sukhoi Superjet 100 is a modern international project with high production standards and high health and safety requirements. For instance, it is one of the few plants in our aviation industry equipped with air conditioning: it is very comfortable here in winter and summer.

Our experience in conducting such open days shows that we attract new workers, engineers and even managers. Working in an aircraft manufacturing company and building aircraft has always been honourable, prestigious and interesting.

— How many people work in Komsomolsk branch of JSC "SCA" today, and how many more are required?

— Currently, our branch employs over a thousand people. To date, we have 63 vacancies. By the end of the year we will need about 40 more workers. And another 100-150 next year.

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I don't know whether you feel it or not, but the people who work for us — it may sound strange in our days — put their hearts and souls into the job. The project has inspired people, and they feel a great responsibility for the result of their job. It turns out that for a human it is very important not just to come to work every day and get paid, but also feel the involvement in such a large-scale international project. This is especially important for Komsomolsk-on-Amur, which is located far away from the centre of Russia. Nowadays you can hear Italian, German, French, English speech at the plant. Komsomolsk has become the centre of an international process. And if you talk to the employees, you will see that they are very enthusiastic and success-oriented.

— Are there any social benefits that attract workers?

— We offer our employees a health insurance programme as well as training and professional development not only in local training centres, but also in Moscow. Since the production of our aircraft is carried out in a broad international cooperation, certain training programmes for our employees take place abroad, at the partner companies of the project.

In near future we are going to open a classroom with a specially designed multimedia learning system. It will be one of a kind. The system aims at training young professionals as well as experienced employees.

We also have a loyalty programme for our stuff: employees planning a long and successful work at our plant, will receive an additional monthly payment in the form of a deferred bonus after three years in the branch.

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I would like to point out that our wages are above average in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The average wage is 37,000 roubles per month. A 6th category worker earns 56,000. Today, few employers in the region can offer this wage level. And this makes sense, because our employees have a great responsibility for the quality and safety of passenger aircraft we produce.

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We plan to raise wages as we produce more aircraft. Our remuneration system aims at stimulating higher productivity. There is a guaranteed part (wage) — what a worker receives regardless of the output. Our shop is divided into 6 areas, and every area is a mini-plant, which additionally receives the variable part of the wage, depending on the number of produced aircraft. To be precise, the variable part of a worker's wage in a specific area depends on the amount of work completed in this area.

As our production volume grow, the variable part is now also beginning to grow. If an area tries to increase overall productivity by increasing the productivity of its workforce instead of hiring additional workforce, the variable wage of the staff working in the area grows even faster. At the same time, the company implements constant quality control measures in order to ensure that growing productivity does not compromise the quality of our product.

In this situation, an area foreman becomes a manager of his own. He starts to think about things he has never thought about before. In the first place, how to optimise the production process and productivity of each employee, and not only fulfill the production plan. It's an interesting experience, and it is already bearing fruit.

In addition, foremen are allowed to choose from an existing range of working schedules and select the most appropriate schedule for each worker to achieve better results.

— Have you been able to attract workers from other cities?

We been able to attract workers froom other cities - we have to do so. We primarily invite experts from other Russian aircraft manufacturers. We rally people from Ulyanovsk, Kostroma and other cities. But this shift scheme only works out for one-off jobs. It's much harder to attract people from other cities on a permanent basis, because it is a widely spread opinion that Komsomolsk is not the most attractive place to live in. This is not quite true, we propose excellent conditions. It's just psychologically hard for people from the European part of Russia to move to Komsomolsk-on-Amur. We provide very good living conditions for shift workers. What they see is a normal city, no worse than many others. And if they come to us for a permanent job, we are able to solve all their housing and daily life problems very quickly.

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— Attracting new employees, improving workforce productivity, increasing the production output — these processes generally entail new problems. How to maintain the product quality in these circumstances? And in the particular case of the Superjet 100 programme, you face another super task: not just maintaining, but increasing the quality of produced aircraft.

Basically, all investments aim at solving these problems. All measures implemented this year have primarily focused on increasing the production output. Obviously, it is an intensive and extensive development path. We are hiring new staff, adding on new building to our production plant in order to move production warehouses closer to the production line. In addition to final assembly shop we also have the fuselage assembly shop. Currently, it is located on KnAAZ territory, but by the end of the year we will finish fencing the territory, and the shop will be located on the SCAC premises. Now there is one assembly line there, but before the end of the year we plan to introduce a second line. We understand that it is impossible to compress the fuselage assembly cycle, so we are taking the expansion path, increasing the production volume through a physical capacity increase. Instead of currently 4 posts there shall be 7 posts earlier next year. After that, the cycle at each post will shorten. And this implies a higher production output and a growing number of employees.

However, such an expansion is not possible in our final assembly facilities. Since 2011, we have outsourced the interior cabin installation. These workes are now performed in Ulyanovsk. Many works have been handed over to the fuselage assembly shop. Now a fuselage comes to us ready for final assembly — with electric bundles and partially installed systems. Actually, there are no works left that could be moved to other production facilities. We get fully assembled wings from KnAAZ, with pre-installed high-lift devices. Any further production rate increase in the final assembly line is going to be achieved through a growing workforce productivity and better organization of the assembly process.

There are many organizational measures going on. On the platforms, we have been introducing a management system at the foreman level. As you can see, all posts have boards with coloured papers. Let's say that this is the new control system for value chain generation. From the technologist who develops the process and the warehouse worker who prepares all necessary items for the work shift to the worker who performs the work and the foreman who controls it.

We are introducing new tools. We are going to buy automated tools. We are incorporating many different innovations, e.g. the X-box system. A worker cannot wait, he has a pre-formulated shift task and all required parts, tools and documentation stacked on a red trolley, prepared particularly for him. The worker does not spend time walking through the shop. He comes to work and immediately starts to work. This is the standard way for all aircraft manufacturers in the world, we studied it very carefully in the Boeing facilities, and are now gradually implementing it here. This technology is not widely spread in Russia yet, and we already see real results.

And most interestingly, these measures also improve the product quality. People are conservative by their nature. And in the first sector where we started to implement this standard it proved very difficult. Nobody wanted to change their habits. Workers would say: "Why do I need this? I used to work with my own tools." And we would reply — "No, everything will be prepared for you". The process was very painful. In the second sector it went easier. And then it started to progress on its own. A worker sees how his neighbour works: the trolley is ready for him to start working, the worker is fully focused on his work, while the other one spends all morning collecting required tools from everywhere. Sometimes he does not find the required toold at all. Not just a wrench, but something very important like a cutting tool — such as a drill. The quality of tools is also under control now — they no longer drill with a blunt bore just because they are too lazy to go and get a new one. It's just a small thing but it allows us to save time. When I prepare the tools for the next shift, I control their quality and I am responsible for it. The warehouse worker ensures that every worker has the proper-sized drill and the drill is sharpened. And what is very important — now we can ensure that no tool is left in the plane. All tools are labelled and returned to the warehouse every day.

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We have now reached a 10-day cycle in each assembly area. Now it's a bit difficult to maintain this rate. But if we work at this pace, it ensures an output of 361 aircraft per year. Our target for the next year is to reach the 7-day cycle, which will give us 40 aircrafts per year. And in 2015th we will be gradually moving towards a 5-day cycle. The number of workers in each area will have to be increased. We have all we need for this. We will increas the number of shifts.

— Well, what about the fight for quality?

(laughing) Fighting hardly ever leads to positive results. You can smash your fist on the table and demand better quality, but it will not change anything.

— Ok. Let's call it the human factor - what about it?

— We have analysed it. Let's quote one well-known innovation: the use of tablet PCs. By the way, it was you who created the whole fuzz around it.

— Yes, we were told about this by SCAC President Andrey Kalinovsky at the Le Bourget air show.

— We didn't see any other way to impose the individual responsibility of a worker for what he does. For example, at some point we found out that something had gone wrong. A scratch or a loose nut — a very serious incident. It's very difficult to identify at what stage it happened. Even the worker who had tightened this nut can say that it was removed after he had finished his job. When we realised this we realized that we needed to find a way, a technology that would allow us to control the assembly process. We conducted various experiments. We even put CCTV cameras to observe the most critical operations. But a camera can not capture the quality of the drilled hole or a nut torque.

We know that we do not have people on board who want to break things on purpose, but this approach protects us from violating production process specifications and bungling the job. For instance, the technological process implies a gradual enlarement of a drill hole with a drill with an increasing diameter. This control system insures against a worker's desire to skip a step or two to get the job done quickly. We don't review the video daily, but every worker knows that if he has allowed a defect we will be able to identify who made ​​it, at what stage, and why. It's a kind of disciplining that works on a psychological level.

And this is how we came to these tablet PCs. To be able to not only control the sequence of operations, but also capture their quality. Why tablets? They are better compatible with computers. If we only needed to take pictures, we would have bought cameras. Easier to use, more convenient and cheaper. But a tablet allows you to immediately send a photo to the database.

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A photo by itself means little. The main thing is that photos are ordered, and I can always quickly find the one I need. Today, all production results are photographed and entered into the database. If something goes wrong, I take the photos of the particular process stage and check in what condition it was submitted to the controller. A production line includes a multi-stage control system. A worker completes the job, then it is controlled by a foreman, then by a controller and finally by an independent inspector. And this is not all. There is a separate inspection zone in the 7th area where the whole aircraft is inspected. Again, the inspection is performed by an independent inspector. Then, during the ground tests the functioning of all systems is verified. Again — by an independent inspector. And only then is the first flight performed.

For instance, we found a missing nut. Does it mean it was not fit or someone removed it? These are two fundamentally different issues. If the worker and supervisor signed the papers that the operation was completed, while it wasn't, this means that there is was the human factor involved. And if the nut was removed later — why? Did it hamper some other operation at a later stage? If it did, may be there is a technological problem? Maybe it should be fitted at another stage of assembly? A nut is just an example which is easy to understand. In reality, a missing nut is a very serious incident, which is investigated on the level of plant managers and has very serious consequences.

We also have a motivation system for the controllers. If a defect wasn't discovered during the QA procedure, and it has reached the 7th area, the controller loses some of the variable part of the wage. This is a measure that doesn't apply to the whole area personnel, but specifically to the controller. Because he stated that there were no defects, while there were. And then we start to analyse why he missed this defect. Is this because of a irresponsible person, or because this spot if difficult to reach and check? Maybe he needs a special mirror to look there, or some other tool like a torchlight or a stool. Petty details, it seems, but these little things make up the concept of "quality".

Photographing proved very helpful, indeed. A simple, inexpensive, and yet very effective measure. Even if had I bought Vertu for all employees, it still would have been cheaper than the efforts we originally made to fix those defects at the final 7th area.

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As a result of the analysis of the detected defects we realised, oddly enough, that we needed to improve our technical documentation. We are going to conclude this process by the end of the year. This doesn't mean that our technical documentation today is not adequate. We have repeatedly conducted audits and obtained the IAC production approval, which was later validated by the countries importing the SSJ100. We have inspectors who examined our documentation and confirmed that it is sufficient to assemble the plane. Now we are lifting it to a higher level.

We decided that we needed a more detailed and illustrative technical documentation. We started to revise the documentation, adding photographs for each step to eradicate any ambiguity. It looks like a comics book where everything is crisp and clear. This improves quality and, at the same time, increases productivity. Once the technology is described in details, it is approved by a technical commission. They grab the first available worker from another area, give him the documentation and say: "Go ahead, assemble this." And then observe how he is doing it. If he has any questions, they write them down. If there are questions, that means that the documentation is not ready yet. In this case, it is sent back to the technologist for revision. The cycle repeats until the worker is able to complete the entire operation without any questions. Only then do we accept the updated process documentation. Technologists also receive bonus payments for process documentation improvements.

Thus, the photography-based analysis led to surprising conclusions we did not expect. Initially, it was all about the human factor. In the end, we faced the need to revise our technological process.

— This multi-tier and redundant QA is good. But I have been to Western aircraft factories where QA processes are minimized. Let's take the Boeing 737, for instance — it takes just 10 days to assemble the whole aircraft. Aren't there too much redundancy and too many back-ups in your system?

So far, we don't see the possibility of reducing the volume of quality control. For us safety is a priority. There is a big desire to ramp up the production by sacrificing the number of QA operations, but we don't do it - it's a matter of principle. We reduce the volume of inspections in certain processes only after we have produced at least 20 aircraft without any production-related quality issues. Then we perform a mandatory technical analysis, which provides an answer to the question whether it is possible to remove the excess volume control. Even if the permanent control is removed, we still perform regular additional checks on, say, every third plane. However, we do not reduce the total amount of inspections. Most critical zones, mechanisms and systems will always remain subject to multiple checks.

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— First aircrafts delivered to Aeroflot faced a lot of technical issues. Almost immediately after delivery they were sent back for multiple service bulletins. What about the planes delivered this year? Are there many complaints?

— Our project is under constant scrutiny of the media. And I know for sure that you can list all the incidents that happened to our planes. Most of all I appreciate the fact that almost all technical problems have been eliminated. That means that the newly delivered aircraft no longer have systemic defects. This suggests that we have mitigated them. As you can see, even with a huge amount of tests we conducted to obtain the type certificate it is impossible to identify all possible defects. Systemic defects are identified, and either eliminated or mitigated through service bulletins. And of course all discovered defects are eliminated in production. Now we are closely focused on tracking random defects.

The amount of complaints during the acceptance process depends on the customer. Sometimes it's a subjective process. Aeroflot has very tough acceptance requirements. It's a wide-spread opinion in the industry. Even foreign manufacturers experience it when delivering planes to Aeroflot. Yet, we can infinitely appeal to the fact that some of the complains are debatable, but the customer is king and should be satisfied. And after all, this is about the safety of passengers using our planes.

In general, the number of complaints during the acceptance proces has significantly decreased. And the nature of these complains changes, as the defects become less and less important. We have almost eliminated safety related issues, and this is the most important result to me.

Roman Gusarov
AEX.RU

P.S.: Our conversation with Bloshinsky continued after the recorder was switched off. I asked why Boeing assembles its 737s 10 times faster and is able to provide a high level of quality without such meticulous control? In short, the answer was: when we will reach Boeing's serial numbers, the quality will be the same.

09 Feb 2014 04:48


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