Moog targets complete control

Posted on 6 Jul 2010

Next time you fly, consider the electro-mechanical wizardry at work behind the pilot’s flight deck that keeps your aircraft on course. Servo valves and manifolds for flight control systems make up an important part of a broad portfolio of precision aerospace and industrial components made by Moog Controls, based in Tewkesbury.

Certain names in UK aerospace are familiar to many; Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Cobham and Goodrich among them, but the companies that supply these primes with sophisticated components that help operate aircraft control systems receive much less press. A lay observer might expect that many of the smaller electro-mechanical components used by these Tier 1 and 2 companies are bought in from China or Eastern Europe.

But look deeper into the UK aerospace sector, and you find companies like Moog Controls; foreign-owned firms manufacturing in the UK as part of efficient internal and external supply chains to these big primes.

Moog, a US company which employs 370 staff at Tewkesbury, makes a wide portfolio of advanced products, where the company is split about 70% in aerospace and 30% in the industrial divisions – motion control systems for applications like plastics, metal forming, power generation and motorsport. While Moog has been in the UK for 40-years, as a global company operating in 26 countries with volume production in the Philippines, the UK site is under intense pressure to control costs.

Tewkesbury has worked hard to analyse its costs and recently consolidated a five-year, enterprisewide lean programme to deliver higher productivity and better staff engagement. This has reaped dividends, says director and site manager of Moog Tewkesbury UK, Steve Hawkins. “We’ve had a strategy for the last three years for reducing recurring costs, i.e. those in manufacturing, and non-recurring costs – those taken on up-front – by cost identification combined with internal strategies like New Product Introduction and lean,” he says.

Aircraft Group:three businesses in one
As part of the Moog Aircraft Group, Moog Tewkesbury has two types of OEM market, internal and external. The internal business supplies aerospace parts to the Moog Aircraft Group, which include servo valves and manifolds for flight control systems. The external business manufactures products that are fitted to fuel metering systems for aircraft engines, braking and steering systems and missile control systems. Moog Tewkesbury also has an aftermarket activity (about 30 % of the external business).

Nigel Cottell, director of quality and deputy site manager, describes one of the bigger external lines: “These products are largely interface devices for aircraft engine fuel metering systems. Rolls-Royce is predominantly at the top of the supply chain, the next tier is our customer that manufactures fuel metering systems – our products are a sub-set of those systems. These receive low level electrical signals and provide the hydraulic control for the metering system.” In the internal Moog market, typical products are servo valves and manifolds for flight control systems. These are the critical components that help to control your plane that you’re unaware of when jetting to the Canary Islands. “Moog provides the primary flight controls for an aircraft; actuators, control electronic and components,” says Cottell. “An actuator is a hydraulic cylinder controlled by a servo valve.

The servo valve is commanded by low level electrical signals from the control electronics. The integration of valve, cylinder and control electronics determines the performance of the flight control system.” In the Moog Aircraft Group, the military servo valve products are designed and manufactured in country, whereas civil servo valves are designed and qualified in Tewkesbury for final phase manufacture and assembly at the Moog facility in Baguio, Philippines. Baguio, with 1,000 employees, and Tewkesbury have a very close working relationship within the parent Moog Inc’s global supply chain. Tewkesbury flows to the Philippines factory the designs, manufacturing processes and even management personnel who disseminate Moog Tewkesbury’s New Product Introduction and lean manufacturing programmes to Baguio when seconded there for regular, three-year postings.

A strategy for growth Put simply, Moog Tewkesbury’s three-year growth strategy has focussed on identifying and reducing recurring and non-recurring costs through Lean, and a New Product Introduction scheme to tighten standards in the process of design to point-of-sales delivery.

On reducing recurring costs, i.e. those generated in certification and testing, Steve Hawkins says: “Certification for our servo valves s require exacting physical performance tests, which demand significant resource. They are sometimes funded in the price of the first few aircraft, but we have focused on bringing this down to be more competitive.” Non-recurring costs in this sector are becoming more and more important. “As the aerospace market becomes more cost focused and more strictly regulated, customers will differentiate not only on recurring costs but also on non recurring costs, with the supplier expected to take the risk on the success of the programme.

Nigel Cottell describes nonrecurring, or up-front, costs. “We define this as the set of costs that we accumulate from the point of starting to design the product, through product development to early pre-production hardware, through qualification testing to a point where the customer and Moog can sign off the product and say it’s now good to go.”

Central pillar — New Product Introduction
Manufacturers frequently talk about visibility and communication between departments to improve the manufacturing process: order – manufacture – quality control – delivery. Moog Tewkesbury has introduced and piloted a ‘gated procedure’ to augment this visibility, with the express aim of increasing quality assurance and simultaneously reducing costs. Called the New Product Introduction process (NPI), it’s a programme that ensures all appropriate steps are undertaken and then reviewed by the relevant company functions. This links all internal departments, from design to the prototype manufacture – finance, sales, purchasing, IT and manufacturing – to ensure that technical performance, costs and quality standards are met and that the customer is satisfied. It has been a manifest success, says Hawkins. “The NPI process is a gated procedure. Each department signs off a check-sheet and takes responsibility for their stage before moving through the gate.”

An important aspect of Moog’s business is ensuring stringent product specifications are maintained throughout manufacture. The NPI helps to identify potential deviations from the product specification as early as possible.

“There is now far better visibility and collaboration between departments and sites,” says Cottell. This gated process extends to transferring commercial products to the Baguio facility. “Common processes with the Baguio facility and Moog Tewkesbury is important,” Cottell adds. “So now Baguio has similar machine tools and test rigs to Tewkesbury, this has reduced duplication of effort with CNC programming, fixtures, specialised tools, CMM programmes and the automated test process.”

Time to refine lean
Moog Tewkesbury has made a big investment in its lean and six sigma programme, refining the baseline lean work done over the last five to six years. In some cases, operating costs have reduced in real terms by 23% as a result of new lean activities.

New initiatives include the introduction of several single piece flow cells in the factory, a departure from the former batch manufacturing process. Results have been striking; “typically” a 25% productivity improvement, says Cottell.

“The introduction of single piece flow lines has highlighted the impact of part shortages, test failures and inefficient use of labour.

This has led to focussed activity by the technical and operations team to fix the underlying problems not just the ‘quick fix’ from the established specialist.” Lean, a methodology often associated with volume, process manufacturing like automotive lines, can be equally effective for discrete manufacturers.

Moog has established cell management teams in all 11 production area and some support areas so there are cells now in quality assurance, finance, purchasing and IT.

Inclusive monthly team meetings allow all staff to have their say with senior management present. This has been a cathartic process. “We found some of this can be extremely uncomfortable for management, until the main issues were on the table and management were seen to be interested and trying to help,” says Cottell. “Both sides are now held to account.” At Moog Tewkesbury all managers are strongly encouraged to participate in the Lean Management Programme, and all staff receive a level of lean training. The company has three six sigma black belts internally, supported by external training “The focussed groups have driven some fundamental changes to the way we test valves and correlate our rigs both internally and with our customers, which has involved a multi-functional team redesigning test rigs to get much better accuracy measuring pressures, flows and frequency response,” says Hawkins.

Lean results and outlook
Many companies engage in lean to some degree, but to assess the effect results must be measured. Moog Tewkesbury says scrap costs have fallen by in excess of 20%, and there is now much improved identification of root cause and subsequent corrective action. Communications have really improved, Steve Hawkins says, and line operators are now evaluating their own ideas unprompted. Some hard metrics stand out. “Lean activities in the manufacturing cells, have reduced machine tool consumable costs from £450,000 to £350,000 a year,” says Cottell. Employee engagement has varied, but generally management is pleased. “When I joined it was about 10 per cent. Now 30-40 per cent of staff are actively engaged,” says Hawkins. This has been helped by a transparent pay structure, linked clearly to lean training grades.

Moog Tewkesbury is a member of the aerospace association A|D|S and UK Trade & Investment’s Supply Chain 21st Century initiative (SC21), a benchmarking process for aerospace companies. “SC21 has revealed that Moog Tewkesbury has improved, but we’re not the best yet and need to improve further,” says Hawkins.

But senior management are confident that continued involvement with its NPI and lean programme, and SC21, will further refine Moog’s business operations to embed it as a world-class company serving clients with the highest requirements in the industry.

Moog Inc is exhibiting at the Farnborough Air Show this month on stand F10 in Hall 4 where there will be a display of company-wide products for commercial and military applications and technologies.