Scheduling Software Enables On-Time Aircraft Deliveries

Building next-generation aircraft may be a daunting task logistically, but using new software developed with Missile Defense Agency (MDA) funding could save manufacturers time, cost, and labor, ensuring quicker deliveries around the world.

Stottler Henke’s system is being used to improve Boeing’s manufacturing efficiency, helping to schedule tasks for workers on the 787 aircraft assembly line.
Stottler Henke Associates of San Mateo, CA originally developed its Aurora™ scheduling technology for NASA to use in managing the timing of International Space Station construction. After serving NASA, Stottler Henke upgraded Aurora’s capabilities with new algorithms developed for missile defense engagement planning.

The enhancements were funded through an MDA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract in 2006, and a Phase II contract in 2008. The company was awarded a multi-million-dollar contract from the Boeing Company following the release of a benchmark study Boeing conducted. The study concluded that Aurora was more efficient in managing resources than the system used by Boeing for almost two decades. Stottler Henke’s technology is now the primary scheduling tool for production of Boeing 787 aircraft.

Stottler Henke’s challenge was to improve the manufacturing efficiencies of Boeing’s 787 project by optimizing aircraft assembly schedules through the use of software designed for better resource management — from equipment to personnel. The problem could be tackled only after fully realizing the scope of Boeing’s operation.

In operational tests, Aurora reduced the amount of time needed on Boeing 787 construction projects through a more efficient use of resources by 10 percent to 30 percent over other commercial schedulers.

How it Works

Initially, the central problem Boeing faced was a lack of space due to a large number of workers manning stations around the center part of a fuselage where the wings were being mounted, while fewer workers were busy elsewhere on the aircraft. So Boeing first asked Stottler Henke to program Aurora for optimal assignment of workers during production of a generic 787. The programming took into account that only a limited number of people could work in a given area to ensure safety and to ensure that tasks would be performed properly. Once Stottler Henke had completed the programming for a generic 787, Boeing created additional configurations to meet the specifications of purchasing airlines. Such airline- specific scheduling continues today at Boeing, aided by the efficiencies of Aurora software.

Design of the Aurora software is based on the premise that order is the key to success. A company like Boeing might be working on several large projects in its assembly plant, but corporate executives are well aware that each large project requires completion of many small tasks, in a certain order, and within prescribed time limits. Most advanced scheduling systems competing with Aurora can crunch such data without much of a problem. But none of them uses intelligent breakdowns of data, including variables that can change the entire picture of how time and labor need to be distributed.

Aurora offers companies more than just a simple schedule for best managing a project’s tasks. Using corporate data that is input into Aurora, the software can analyze the full potential of the workforce based on skills, work shifts, staffing requirements for certain tasks, actual working space where a task is being conducted, and perhaps most importantly, keeping the workflow in sync with schedule completion requirements. A company can also use the program to interchange variables such as the ordering of projects or staffing requirements on certain tasks to develop a production schedule that best suits specific corporate interests.

Where it Stands

Stottler Henke continues to look beyond the Boeing contract, seeking to have Aurora in many aerospace manufacturing and repair centers across the country. The company most recently contracted to provide scheduling services for a division of Acument Aerospace Technologies, which makes aircraft fasteners and bolts for many manufacturers, including Boeing.

Outside of the company’s aerospace contracts and success, the company would entertain partnerships with companies that desire high-quality scheduling models as part of their software systems.

More Information

For more information on Stottler Henke’s Aurora system, visit . (Source: Joe Singleton/NTTC; MDA TechUpdate, Missile Defense Agency, National Technology Transfer Center Washington Operations)

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This article first appeared in the October, 2009 issue of Defense Tech Briefs Magazine.

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