Lining a corridor in the offices of Lockheed Martin’s Lufkin, Texas-based plant are posters with photos showing employees and their relatives who served, or are serving, in the U.S. armed forces. Among them is a picture of site director Keith Johnson’s son, a Marine. The photos are a constant reminder that the missile system components being built at the facility are used and relied on in some of the most deadly areas in the world.
“There is a personal commitment to quality to make sure we get world-class, high-quality products to our war fighters,” says Johnson. “This stuff has to work first time, every time, no exceptions, no cutting corners. Quality is number one.”
Lockheed Martin’s Lufkin Operations, part of the Missiles & Fire Control division, produces electronics and sub-assemblies for the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile, a hit-to-kill interceptor that is its primary product, as well as the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GLMRS), the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) weapon system.
While the Department of Defense is planning to reduce expenditures, production of the PAC-3 and THAAD systems is ramping up. In fact, Johnson has had to maintain the facility’s zeal for quality while overseeing a dramatic expansion. In 2010, manufacturing space was doubled to accommodate a large contract to build the PAC-3 missile systems. Increased production has resulted in a near tripling of the employee population. Every workstation and piece of equipment in the plant was moved.
“We did all that without sacrificing quality or schedule,” Johnson recalls. “We didn’t miss any contract dates. Our defects per standard hour actually went down during that same timeframe.” What’s more, the plant reduced major end item deliverable cycle times by up to 38%.
Johnson emphasized communication during the transformation of the plant, hosting frequent all-employee meetings as well as small roundtable meetings where employees could provide their feedback on the changes. He held staff meetings every morning and afternoon for a year to coordinate the expansion.
To obtain the best new employees, Lufkin Operations worked with a temp agency that screened applicants based on their educational abilities. They then went through hand/eye coordination tests (important for the assembly of intricate circuit boards and wiring) and then interviews and background checks. Several weeks of training followed, then job shadowing and finally several months of on-the-job training where the new recruits were evaluated on their attendance, efficiency and quality of work.
The plant has three primary production areas: circuit card assembly, wire harness assembly and final assembly, integration and testing. According to Jason Crager, production operations manager and site deputy, the plant recently implemented an X-ray inspection machine that checks solder joints on circuit boards. The machine is set “high” so that it initially identifies more defects. Operators then check the joints to see if they are actually defective or not. This information is fed back to the machine so that it refines its analysis of joints. The machine both speeds up and reduces variability in the inspection process.
To accommodate the increased production, Lufkin runs two 10-hour shifts four days a week. Lufkin also has developed a work-sharing program with Lockheed Martin’s Ocala, Fla.-based facility. Using identical equipment and processes, they will produce some of the circuit boards and wiring harnesses and then send them to Lufkin for final assembly.