Data Mining for Continuous Quality Improvement

When I started observing the manufacturing processes in the GE Aviation Rotating Parts plant I was awestruck by the amount of raw material, manpower, machines, and processes all happening at the same time. Then I reflected on the fact that this operation runs 24 hours per day for about 360 days of the year.  The amount of data that is collected and organized from all of the various operations in the path of a manufactured part is astronomical.

A typical machined part may go through as many as 25 separate operations during the manufacturing process. At each step in the process, operators are taking measurements to ensure the part is meeting specific tolerances.  Along the way quality engineers are monitoring any nonconforming measurements and creating an analysis to help determine why the part is nonconforming, and how it can be fixed.

When I sat with the quality engineering team I have to admit I was impressed by the number of objective data points they could pull from. Still making meaning from that data is not an easy task. The part that we were researching was only about halfway through the manufacturing process and the quality analysis database was tracking over 100 measurement points.

The use of data mining techniques in manufacturing began in the 1990s and it has gradually progressed to become a mainstream part of manufacturing. Data mining is now used in many different areas in manufacturing engineering to extract knowledge for use in maintenance, nonconformance, design, process tracking, quality assurance, scheduling, and decision support. Data can be analyzed to identify hidden patterns in the parameters that control manufacturing processes or to determine and improve the quality of products.

A major advantage of data mining is that the required data for analysis can be collected during the normal operations of the manufacturing process being studied. So it is not necessary to introduce a separate dedicated process for data collection, data can easily be collected and tracked while the process is being completed. Thus, hundreds, and possibly thousands of distinct data points can be gathered at no extra cost, and with very little extra effort by the machine operators.

In the example, the part being analyzed was measuring out of conformance at a particular radius and at a specific point in the machining process. By analyzing that data the quality engineers were able to construct a new cutting path that corrected the problem and brought the number of nonconforming measurements down later in the manufacturing process. This is the Monitor, Analyze, and Improve portion of the DMAIC process discussed earlier.

Now, in our world of education, the data collection process is not so neat and orderly. We clearly have a multitude of opportunities to collect data and build a data profile of students. But just as in the quality engineering process, making meaning from the data and using the data to guide decision making is harder than it sounds. In addition, within the realm of education, our data is not as clear, straightforward, or objective.  Even with those issues, there are many things we can learn and apply from the DMAIC model used in manufacturing.

Clearly, our students are not manufactured parts flowing through an assembly line. However, our ability to capture useful data and apply it in a process of quality improvement is vital to our student’s long term success. How do we create a useful picture from data that we can gather easily? How do we know if the data is a reflection of the educator or the needs of the student? What kind of data will ensure that we can provide effective analysis and monitoring of student progress?

In her book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Cathy O’neil points out “We’ve seen time and again that mathematical models can sift through data to locate people who are likely to face great challenges, whether from crime, poverty, or education. It’s up to society whether to use that intelligence to reject and punish them—or to reach out to them with the resources they need. We can use the scale and efficiency that make WMDs so pernicious in order to help people. It all depends on the objective we choose.”

If the objective is quality improvement, and providing better resources for our students, it seems we have the tools we need to put data to work in a positive and sustainable manner. To be an effective educator, I want to learn how to find the best sources of useful data, how to better utilize my data analysis and quality improvement, and how to implement solutions that can be maintained and evaluated over time. I want to use data “to reach out” to my students by gaining a better understanding of where they are and how to keep them headed in the right direction.

What is Gemba?

Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.”  Commonly used in Japan, the police could refer to a crime scene as gemba, and TV reporters often refer to themselves as reporting live from gemba.

In Kaizen and LEAN manufacturing practices, however, gemba refers to “the place where value is created”The most common use of the term is in manufacturing, where the gemba is the factory floor. Beyond this, gemba can really be any “site”, such as a building site in construction, the sales floor in retail, somewhere the service provider interacts directly with the customer, or our classrooms full of students, where the value is created.

At the GE Aviation Rotating Parts facility, the leadership teams made up of production supervisors, process engineers, quality engineers, and plant-wide supervisors engage in a daily gemba walk.

In a lean manufacturing environment like the Rotating Parts plant, the whole point of gemba is that problems in a process or production line operation are often easily visible, and the best improvements come from going to ‘the real place’, where leaders can see the state of the process for themselves. In Japanese manufacturing culture, they use gemba to “Go see, ask why, show respect”

Over the course of a Gemba Walk, production supervisors, process engineers, quality engineers, and plant-wide supervisors are expected to simply observe and understand operation or process. As part of the Kaizen methodology, it is also supposed to encourage greater communication, transparency, and trust between the machine operators and leadership, all part of building a teaming culture. For this reason, it is not appropriate to use a Gemba walk to point out employee flaws or enforce policy, the purpose is to inspect and understand the operation or process.

The main objective of a Gemba walk is to explore the manufacturing process in detail and locate its problematic parts through active communication.  Kaizen practices encourage a good leader to listen rather than talk. Before making the walk of the rotating parts manufacturing floor, the leadership team make a plan and follow a series of steps. The plan depends on the goals and objectives of the day.

The goal or objective for the day may be productivity, cost efficiency, safety, or quality.  In order to be as precise as possible, the teams prepare a list of questions they are going to focus on. The operators that will be observed are prepared for what is going to happen. All team members need to have a clear understanding that the Gemba walk is a common process where the final destination is continuous improvement. The leadership team wants the operators to feel comfortable and willing to collaborate.

The leadership team writes down everything that grabs their attention or may record it with a smartphone. In some cases, leadership might be tempted to offer a solution immediately, but according to Kaizen, this would be wrong. A better process will leave the analysis for later. As we discussed yesterday when reviewing quality analysis, observations will be much more precise after you have all the facts available. In addition, the reflection can offer you opportunities to use some of the problem-solving tools we discussed such as DMAIC or an A3 process. As we have mentioned these are much better than following an instant gut feeling.

At the end of the gemba walk, it is very important to share with the operators what was learned or seen. Otherwise, the operators will only have the feeling of being watched or evaluated. If the team is going to take actions after the walk, they ask for input from and inform the operators about the upcoming changes and why they are necessary. It is important to show the operators they are an important part of the process and have a role to play in continuous improvement.

So, what role does a gemba walk have in a middle school? When I think about the PBL process it seems that a structured gemba walk which includes the instructor, and a member from each group so that they can be aware of how the other groups are doing, what problems are being encountered, and what resources are needed would be an excellent addition to improve the process.

When I think about how the evaluation process roles out in our school, it makes me wonder if a daily gemba walk would be a useful exercise. The walk would have a different theme each day, maybe student behavior on Monday, technology use on Tuesday, Safety on Wednesday, PBIS on Thursday, and MTSS on Friday, all at different times of day to ensure that different classes and combinations of students are seen. The walk would not be an evaluation, but just fact-finding, and opportunity for the administration to interact with staff and students. After the walk, they could do some analysis and post thoughts and findings to a shared faculty resource page for discussion and feedback. I am just brainstorming, but after watching a gemba walk in this very complicated manufacturing environment it seems like a logical process for our school.


The data tells a story….quality is detailed work.

As I mentioned in a previous post, each manufacturing cell at the GE Aviation Rotating parts facility has a three-part leadership team which includes a production supervisor who oversees the flow of operations and materials, a process engineer who works directly with the machine operators and the production supervisor to streamline the manufacturing operations and ensure the efficiency of the operations, and a quality engineer who oversees and manages the quality assurance process during the manufacturing operations.

The quality engineering operation is far from simple. Each cell is responsible for multiple parts and operations, and data is collected throughout the process to help track and fix any problems that may be emerging. The parts being manufactured in the plant go through up to 25 operations, and at each point, any small error can lead to a defect. In addition, the parts have complex cutting and milling operations that can contribute to accumulated stresses, and error tolerances can be very tight, less than 1/1000 of an inch in most cases. Finding where an error is happening, why, and how it is happening is not guesswork, it is an extremely detailed process that includes thousands of data points collected by the machines and operators throughout the process.

At GE Aviation quality engineering has multiple parts. I was able to spend part of a day with Jon who oversees the quality lab. In the quality lab, the technicians are using a variety of techniques to essentially double check the data collected by the operators. Obviously, they cannot collect and analyze each and every part leaving the factory, so they do a statistical sampling and compare the values collected to what is being recorded in the internal QA database. I think my students would absolutely be fascinated with the lab because unlike the factory floor they have operational Programmable Logic Controllers or modified robotic arms that are testing tolerances on the parts in an automated fashion. The whole process has a very state of the art feel. At the same time, technicians are using a very analog process of placing a dental epoxy in certain small locations in the part to create a mold that can then be measured with digital and analog tools. Due to the high reflectivity of the metals used in the parts some state of the art measuring devices that depend on lasers and ultrasound are not as reliable as is needed in this very specific environment. It is an interesting combination of older and brand new technologies. It also has a very real outcome, as these parts are heading for engines that power the planes that fly all over our planet.  A slip in quality is just not acceptable.

Where true quality engineering work happens in the Rotating Parts facility is in the manufacturing operations themselves. I was able to shadow John, and his assistant Ahmed, who is working at GE Aviation on a co-op from the University of Maryland. John was kind enough to really involve me in the work process he and Ahmed were involved in trying to isolate some quality issues they were having on a specific part.  They were in the process of collecting data about Non-Conforming Reports (NCR’s) which had been issued to the internal QA software, and evaluating the nature, timing, and severity of the NCR. John is a brilliant engineer who has years of experience in quality management.  He went through a variety of problem-solving techniques he has used in his career. For this particular problem, we discussed the DMAIC process which is part of six sigma. DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. One method of starting the “define portion of DMAIC is to use a fishbone diagram. A fishbone diagram is also called a cause and effect diagram or Ishikawa diagram and is a visualization tool for categorizing the potential causes of a problem in order to identify its root causes. John continued to return to this singular idea, we need to identify the “root causes” of the problem.

He described many times when he has been on teams and the principal engineers did not use a systematic approach, and in trying to determine what is changing an outcome they took a scattershot approach and identified a list of potential problems. He was clear that if you do not use a scientific approach driven by hypothesis testing and strong data analysis you may never identify the “true root cause”.  John pointed out that often we will have a “gut feeling” based on experience and prior knowledge, and it may be fastest to follow that feeling, but without data analysis, we can waste a lot of time, resources, and money.

Define is the first step, and many of us stop right there when problem-solving. Measurement is so crucial to the success of a change process. Without good measurement there can be no real analysis, we will not know if the improvement is real and sustainable, and we cannot control for other variables in the process. I have more to write about what I learned from John and Ahmed, but I want to get down one more idea for today. John taught me about Jidoka. The concept of Jidoka is one of the two pillars of the Toyota Production System along with just-in-time. Jidoka highlights the causes of problems because work stops immediately when a problem first occurs. This leads to improvements in the processes that build in quality by eliminating the root causes of defects. John stressed how important it is that an error or problem not be allowed to continue because we don’t want to stop the process. Even though a stoppage costs time and money, letting the error continue may ultimately cost more. It feels like we fall into this trap in our classrooms. We can’t just stop, but we have to figure out ways to really use DMAIC and reset our process rather than letting negative ideas and processes grow in our classrooms.

Kaizen = Improvement

GE aviation has incorporated many corporate-wide initiatives to foster the idea of constant incremental improvement. Many of these initiatives are based on the Toyota production system developed in the mid-1950s.

Kaizen is one of the core principles of The Toyota Production System, a quest for continuous improvement and a single word that sums up Toyota’s ‘Always a Better Way’ slogan.

Kaizen, which means continuous improvement in english, is a philosophy that helps to ensure maximum quality, the elimination of waste, and improvements in efficiency, both in terms of equipment and work procedures. Kaizen improvements in standardized work help maximize productivity across the individual shop, and the organization. Standardized work involves following procedures consistently and therefore employees can identify the problems promptly.

Within the Toyota Production System, Kaizen empowers individual members of a team or cell to identify areas for improvement and suggest practical solutions. The focused activity surrounding this solution is often referred to as a kaizen blitz, while it is the responsibility of each member to adopt the improved standardized procedure and eliminate waste from within the team or cell.

Kaizen begins in the early designs of a production line and continues through its lifetime of use by a process of consensus known as Nemawashi.  Kaizen can be incorporated in the manufacturing facility through Flow kaizen and through Process kaizen.

Flow kaizen is oriented towards the flow of materials and information, and is often identified with the reorganization of an entire production area, even a company. Process Kaizen means the improvement of individual workstations or manufacturing cells. Therefore, improving the way production workers do their job is a part of a process kaizen. The use of the kaizen model for continuous improvement demands that both flow and process kaizens are used, although process kaizens are used more often to focus workers on continuous small improvements.

Yesterday I was able to shadow three members of the Kaizen promotion team at the GE Aviation Rotating Parts facility. In the morning I shadowed Rick, who leads the team and has been at this facility for about a year. Rick came here after many years working at the Baxter production facility in North Cove, the leading IV bag production facility in North America. He was a leader in implementing LEAN Manufacturing and Kaizen principles at that plant. In fact, that plant won two national awards during his tenure due to the implementation of these principles.

Rick shared some very specific tools used in the Kaizen process, such as the A3 form. The A3 looks at an operational change initiative across nine different areas of documentation. The purpose of the form is to create a record of a change initiative and to ensure that the entire team understands the purpose and scope of the operational change. The nine areas include 1. Reasons for the action – a background statement supplemented with data and objective criteria. 2. Initial state – a description of the current state of the issue referencing specific metrics. 3. Target State – Where do we want the process to improve, again using specific metrics. 4. Gap Analysis – What needs to change to get to the target state. 5. Solution Approach – how we make changes, including a specific list of potential solutions. 6. Rapid Experiments – A list of first pass fast implementation experiments and an analysis of results. 7. Completion plan – Due dates for changes to be implemented. 8. Confirmed State – An analysis of the efficacy of the changes, in theory, it should match number 3 Target State. 9. Insights – What are the fundamental lessons of the event and the improvement cycle.  Rick and I discussed how the form can be used, or on occasion misused. Sometimes a process change will lead to a loss in quality, and he made it clear that would lead to backmapping and figuring out a different solution.

It is clear that collecting data, hypothesis testing, and quick experimentation are all steps to move towards process improvement. When I think about our school improvement process and the tools we use, particularly Indistar, I think we can learn a lot from Kaizen and the Toyota Production System that can be applied directly in our classrooms. As I look over the form I definitely see some application in my classroom and school as we look to improve some processes in the building.  As I step back from the experience I am having at GE Aviation it is important that I figure out the relationships between process and quality improvement, how I can use these tools, and how I can make these lessons real for my students.


Institutional Knowledge in the Digital Age…..

Yesterday was my opportunity to shadow two process engineers at the Rotating Parts facility at GE Aviation. Process Engineers at GE Aviation are responsible for designing, implementing, controlling and optimizing the operation processes, especially continuous ones within the advanced material manipulation process that results in finished machine parts for aircraft engines.

In the morning I was able to work with Ted, a 37 year veteran at this facility who started as a machine operator after completing the machining program at AB-Tech in the early 1980s. Ted is essentially a walking encyclopedia entry for this facility, if they have made a part, he can tell you who it was for, the type of engine it was in, and what the manufacturing process looked like for that part.  Ted and all of the process engineers at the plant are part of the 3 legged stool leadership team for each manufacturing cell. The three-legged stool includes the process engineer, the production supervisor, and the quality engineer. Each cell is responsible for manufacturing multiple parts, or some process in the part such as milling or splining. The amount of materials and activity involved in each operation is somewhat awe-inspiring.

The first thing most people would notice about Ted is that without notes he can pick up a part, tell you a part number, describe the materials, tell you the engine that it will be part of and the type of aircraft that engine will power. He can describe the small differences of a part destined for a military helicopter that requires more horsepower, or one destined for a commercial model of a similar aircraft. Ted has worked in the plant since before the switch to GE, and he can tell you about the parts made in the 1980s and the different clients the parts were produced for (some were parts for mining machines used in South America). Ted can walk up to an operation and tell you step by step what the operator of the machine has done, is doing and will be doing to guide the part through the process. Ted can also show you the elaborate programming he has done to guide the precision cuts made by the immense machines, and how the part is held in place to avoid undue stresses and possible stress damage.

Ted introduced me to Mike, a 34 year veteran of the shop floor.  Mike is a de facto shop leader. He operates a set of machines that produce a major part for a GE engine that will be expected to work without fail for hundreds of thousands, probably millions of air miles. Mike shared that the shop floor has not always been as clean or well maintained. Changes in materials processes have made huge improvements over the years. He stressed something I have heard many times already in the plant, constant incremental improvement.  Mike, much like the young machinist Cody, talked about how the job demands problem solving and patience. The machines are state of the art, but always need adjustment and processes need to be evaluated to ensure improvement. The operator and the process manager work together to improve the operational processes.

I left Ted and Mike, between them holding 71 years of institutional knowledge about the facility, the parts, the processes, and the people at GE Aviation. I went to shadow David, a process engineer who has been at this plant for less than 20 weeks. In his own way, David was an encyclopedia of knowledge, but without the years of experience in the plant. David has been focused on a particular part that is experiencing some quality issues because of the way in which the part has to be clamped in the machine for cutting.  A particular radius is showing signs of stress fractures in the quality analysis. David and I sat at his computer and he was able to show me multiple test results that express the various levels of stress as a result of different experiments with clamping locations and devices. David showed me how he and an engineer in Cincinnati are able to work together to run tests and implement artificial intelligence tools to predict specific patterns based on other parts and process designs.  Ultimately David will be working with the machine operator to make the process work, so he is incorporating advanced technology and human communication to increase efficiency.

These two process engineers represent the past, the present, and the future of this manufacturing facility.  As an educator, how can I help my students understand that they will have to understand and master the tools of digital technology, but they will have to use them hand in glove with the time-honored skills of listening, asking clarifying questions, and understanding the input of every person involved in the manufacturing process?




The Helicopter Pilot and the Artist

PANAMA CANAL (Aug. 14, 2008) U.S. Army Helicopter Black Hawk hovers above the guided-missile destroyer USS Farragut (DDG 99) to perform a fast rope exercise. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Shanika L. Futrell/Released)

In an advanced manufacturing facility like GE Aviation, you might presume that all of the leadership and administrative roles would be filled by Engineers or folks with a strong technical background. Yesterday I was able to shadow two production managers at the GE Aviation Rotating Parts production facility. These managers oversee a team of machine operators and are responsible for the production of millions of dollars of advanced aircraft engine parts.

The focus, professionalism, and leadership skills of these young women were obvious, in these respects, they could not have been more similar. However, as I was able to ask them questions I learned about their backgrounds, I learned about and started to understand how they were different. One was a West Point graduate who went on to pilot helicopters in the US Army. The other earned an advanced degree in Fine Arts. How could these women with such disparate backgrounds do the same job?

What is it that the job and the facility value most? Is it technical skill and advanced manufacturing knowledge? Or, is it communication, humility, and the ability to empathize with young men and women just coming out of high school, machinists who have worked on the shop floor for over 30 years, and a little bit of everything in between.

What I am starting to learn is that advanced manufacturing is equally an art and a science. Yes, thousands of hours and millions of dollars will go into the intricate and detailed planning of materials flow, the development and adjustment of precision tools and instruments, and the expert operation of mills and lathes to produce high tech titanium parts manufactured to within 1/1000 of centimeter tolerances. But the orchestration of all that precision is much like the choreography of a team of dancers, the precision of the team makes the individual work greater than the sum of its parts.  It takes interpretation, communication, and outstanding attention to detail to ensure it all works

As a teacher, I have a lot to learn from the helicopter pilot and the artist if I want to best prepare students to be a part of their team.

Reaching every corner of the world, for generations to come.

(Note: All last names omitted to protect privacy)

Day 2 at GE Aviation has allowed me to meet with some of the production supervisors, process engineers, quality engineers, and actually get out on the rotating parts plant floor to see parts being manufactured. The title of this entry is from the GE Aviation Vision Statement hanging near the door to manufacturing floor “To Solidify Western North Carolina’s footprint in advanced manufacturing, reaching every corner of the world for generations to come.”  I think this vision statement clarifies what this fellowship is all about, impacting our region, and by extension, our world, for generations to come by addressing the needs of our students and the advanced manufacturing leaders in our region.

My day started with my inclusion in a Plant Control Center meeting.  Each manufacturing cell is represented by the production supervisor for the cell.  This meeting was focused and fast. Everyone was standing, including the meeting facilitator, the facility Lead Process Engineer. Joe facilitated the meeting from an excel spreadsheet which had a series of action items related to specific parts and their progress. The cell production supervisors quickly answered questions and worked through issues related to quality assurance standards and the process flow.  As specific products and action items were dealt with production managers quietly left the meeting with no disruption. The group tackled 11 parts and related action items in 15 minutes as Joe updated the spreadsheet with notes or additional action items.

After the meeting, I was able to tag along with one of the production supervisors, Steve, to ask questions and observe his manufacturing cell during production. I asked Steve what qualities he values most in his production employees.  Steve made it clear that a good employee is going to have a technical background, blueprint reading, skills with tools, etc, but the skills he values most are what we traditionally call “soft skills”. He explained that production staff needs to be disciplined, have integrity, and be good listeners. In addition, they need to accept criticism as a path to improvement, not take things personally, and they need to be team oriented and willing to work together to gain efficiency, not to just accept doing things because that is the way they have always been done. As an example, Steve allowed me to watch a young employee, Justin, who was working as an apprentice learning how to run a four spindle machine operation. Justin was working here through his senior year at Pisgah High School in Canton as part of his high school curriculum,  and he had recently graduated from Pisgah just two weeks ago. His Metals teacher, Chip Singleton, had actually worked in this plant many years ago.  Multiple students from Pisgah had come to this GE facility and found success as an extension of the metals program through an apprenticeship program started by the school. The apprentice program started 3 years ago and the plant now has 12 Pisgah graduates. This is a really excellent concept, treating the students who sign on as apprentices just like the students who sign athletic scholarships. This is one way that we can show how we value advanced manufacturing and the impact it has on our local economy.

The regular employee who was mentoring this apprentice, Jimmy, explained that this station had formerly been run by 4 employees, one at each machine. But through improvements in efficiency, design and digital technology, the four different machines could now be managed by one employee. Jimmy had been part of the redesign allowing for these changes. Even though it means fewer employees, it raises efficiency and the overall profits of the plant, which in turn has created new jobs and opportunities throughout the plant.

Watching Justin work it was obvious he was very detail oriented, as multiple parts needed to be adjusted and aligned as part of the milling process. He was meticulous, checking his measurements twice with multiple instruments before resetting the milling process. Mistakes could lead to errors that cost thousands of dollars, not to mention a breach in quality could cost lives. Later in the day, I was able to speak with Cody, one of the original participants in the apprenticeship program. When I asked Cody what he liked most about this work he said: “I really like the problem solving, figuring out how to make things work so that our parts are always top quality”. He went on to say that the work can be stressful, but the organization and process management approach allows for him to “slow down and keep his head” when things start to back up on the floor.

Later in the morning, I was able to Shadow Angela, another production supervisor. Angela shared that machinists are classified as skilled, highly skilled, and advanced. the Advanced Machinists have an Employee Performance Evaluation which provides for observation across 10 categories.  You might suspect that this evaluation would be primarily focused on technical aspects, and there are many like “Ability to run multiple machines/processes in and outside area” and “Demonstrates ability to set up parts, modify fixtures, and partner with process engineers”. But in reality, it focuses on a variety of soft skills that help employees bring more value to the shop floor. For example, Standard 1 “Willing to train new and existing employees, shows an interest in their success” and Standard 5 “consistently exhibits desired traits regarding behavior including integrity, honesty, respect, positive attitude, teamwork, dependability, etc”. Standard 6 states “Consistently hits standard and helps others improve performance”, Standard 7 “Owns up to mistakes, brings issues forward, and addresses issues immediately” and “proposes corrective actions and acts to prevent recurring issues”.  In standard 8 “recognizes where others need help and offers to jump in” and Standard 9 “Champions ideas for improvements and encourages others to do so as well” and Standard 10 “Embraces teaming”.

While I may not be able to teach the very specific technical skills needed on the shop floor (beyond mastering a dial caliper), I and my middle school colleagues can certainly help build the habits that will lead to our students bringing these soft skills and traits into a facility like the GE Aviation rotating parts plant.



GE Aviation – Innovation at work……..

After returning from NCCAT, my head swimming with ideas, tools, and tips during this great week of professional development, I took the weekend to debrief and try to coordinate some of the many resources I learned about. Then on Monday, I hit the ground running, starting my internship at GE Aviation in Asheville.  I had a vague understanding of what GE Aviation Asheville produces, and how important it is to our local economy, but today has been a true education. Not just about what GE Aviation does, but who GE Aviation is, and how GE Aviation creates a culture of quality and success. 

Most of us know GE as a massive company founded by Thomas Edison. The modern GE is made up of three primary areas of interest – Aviation, Renewable Energy and Infrastructure. Even though you will still see appliances with the GE logo, they are no longer made by GE, the division was sold to another manufacturer along with the naming rights. GE does not even make light bulbs anymore, they are a new and ever-changing company.

Today, GE refers to itself as a 125-year-old startup. They view the startup mentality as the fuel behind the companies longevity. Like a young company, they never settle. They like to say that they are “impatient for progress”.  The culture encourages a “figure it out” mindset. They give employees the leeway to take chances, fail, learn, and move quickly in a new direction. They encourage managers to be comfortable with ambiguity as they take on responsibility. They want leaders who know when to take charge and when to watch and listen because obviously, no one can do it all. They encourage a corporate culture of understanding success requires listening and learning, regardless of age or title.

GE9xGE Aviation is a leading provider of jet and turboprop engines. They develop and manufacture components and integrated systems for commercial, military, business, and general aviation aircraft. They also have a global service network to support these manufactured engines. GE Aviation recorded revenues of $26 billion and had more than 40,000 employees in 2016.

About 25,000 jet engines from GE and its partner companies (CFM International and The Engine Alliance) are in airline service today. An aircraft powered by GE or CFM engines takes flight every 2 seconds. Some quick math tells us that about 300,000 people worldwide are flying on GE Aviation or partner engines as you read this sentence. To say they take quality seriously and personally is a massive understatement.

Today I learned that in 2014 GE Aviation’s invested $125 million to develop a CMC parts production facility in Asheville, NC. It is located alongside an existing GE Aviation rotating parts plant that has been a fixture in the Asheville economy since 1949. The plant has had several ownership changes, but the past 25 years at this site has been some variation of GE Aviation manufacturing. 

The new plant is a first-of-its-kind CMC parts production process. CMC, or Ceramic Matrix Composites, is set to revolutionize everything from power generation to aviation and allows engineers to build much more powerful and efficient jet engines. As the company has foreseen the future of advanced manufacturing and invested heavily in 3D printing and digital technology, it has also laid the groundwork for exploiting advanced CMCs’ potential to deliver the increased performance, reduced weight and emissions and lower operating cost being demanded for the jet engines that will power aircraft in the future.

My first day was a whirlwind of introductions and quick overviews of the process engineering and quality engineering strategies and techniques utilized in this state of the art advanced manufacturing facility. I learned about the LEAN manufacturing process which focuses on problem-solving, team effort and communication to ensure an efficient manufacturing environment. The LEAN process is dependant on a teaming approach, with each team led by the 3 legged stool of a production supervisor, a process engineer, and a quality engineer to ensure communication, oversight, and efficiency. Each of the 11 manufacturing teams, or cells, in the plant produce a daily report which is tactical and focused to improve efficiency.

The LEAN approach is designed to eliminate DOWNTIME.  It reduces Defects, eliminates Overproduction, cuts down on material and time Waste,  is able to help avoid Non utilized talent, helps create more efficient Transportation, ensures better use of Inventory, cuts down wasted Motion of the operator, helps eliminate Extra Processing. 

I will be exploring the skills and traits that this process demands of plant staff and workers over the next few weeks. These skills are what an advanced manufacturer like GE Aviation demands from the employee of the future, the employees that are working in our classrooms today.


Images from: Composite World, and GE Aviation


Tired, but Inspired………

This week at NCCAT has been one of the most amazing learning experiences of my career. I cannot begin to explain my gratitude to the Kenan Fellows staff, and the wonderful Kenan Fellows steering committee. Way too many things to list, but our sessions on PBL, PBL mapping, Computational Thinking, creating our educational brand, Creating a culture of support in the classroom, our role in diversity, inclusion, and equity, not to mention the awesome goosechase, trip to Judaculla Rock, and patio PD! The Kenan EdCamp was enriching, as we had an opportunity to talk in a very relaxed setting about many of the topics we were introduced to this week.

I am going to try and implement many of these things, but immediately I am going to utilize the teacher as GPS resources that Paul shared with us on Tuesday and again during EdCamp. The conversation we had during EdCamp about assessment and assessment tools was super helpful. The next couple of days will be a debrief and unpacking of all of this material.

This experience far exceeds almost every PD I have ever completed due to the amazing skills brought to the table by the participants and steering committee. Probably the closest experiences I have to this week are the Empowering STEM  conference (where I learned about Kenan Fellows!) NCTIES and the Asheville EdCamp. This week was like all of those amazing experiences rolled into one!

Learning from peers is so invigorating, especially for an old guy like me.  As John Wooden said, “When you are through learning, you are through”.

On this summer solstice, the longest day of the year, I am tired, but so inspired to get started on my internship next week………