Airbus Helicopters Canada came to Niagara College seeking help to improve the productivity of a workstation in its Fort Erie plant. The company had established that the station (which trimmed, drilled and routed carbon fibre parts) was a bottleneck in the manufacturing process and was also wasting too much material. Airbus hoped a partnership with Niagara College would help improve the function of the station by reducing scrap and increasing its rate of production.
The research team, made up of an engineering instructor and a student on his senior co-op placement, used a GoPro camera to film workers at the station. They then fed the data they gathered into a program that rated activities as value-added or not. Among other things, the time-study data showed employees were wasting hours looking for tools: to fix that, the team built a mobile rack, with places for every tool.
The same data was used to study ideal trimming and drilling times and create standard operating procedures that would allow employees to achieve them. Scott Hickey, senior manager of manufacturing at the plant, said the research allowed the company to make more accurate and competitive quotes.
The most significant change brought about by the project, however, was the decision to buy a machine from a local company that automates the cutting and drilling of composite materials, which allows the work cell to increase quality and generate higher profits. The project, which ran over six months, let student Alex Goerz learn new skills not taught in the classroom, including recording and analyzing data.
“The wonderful partnership with Niagara College on this program has been amazing,” Hickey said. “It gives the student the ability to come into the work force, to really understand what we need, but also, for us it gives an opportunity to perceive what new technologies are out there.”
The report submitted to the company by the research team documented several tangible improvements, including:
- A two-year return on investment on the $304,000 spent to automate the process;
- Increased productivity and quality;
- 8,911 working hours annually reduced to approximately 1,500
- An estimated 85 per cent reduction in waste, from $180,000 to $20,000