Pratt and Whitney: Soaring into the future
Pratt and Whitney's jet engine manufacturing plant balances speed and flexibility
As U.S. manufacturing has powered the global economic resurgence in recent years, Pratt & Whitney has powered aviation. The company boasts of having its jet engines in 25% of the world’s commercial aviation fleet. It is also a global force in military aviation, with its engines in 29 countries around the world. The company, founded by Frederick Rentschler in 1925, is a division of United Technologies Corp., and has 33,000 employees and $14 billion in worldwide revenues.
Pratt & Whitney has a manufacturing operation built around uncompromising quality in products that must perform at all times. Joe Sylvestro is the person charged with leading that effort. Sylvestro is vice president of manufacturing operations for Pratt & Whitney. In that role, he is responsible for quality, safety, and cost management Pratt & Whitney’s manufacturing operations are in Maine; New York; Pennsylvania; Georgia; and Chengdu, China; its home plant is in Middletown, Conn.
Plant Engineering content manager Bob Vavra discussed the strategies and success of Pratt & Whitney’s manufacturing process with Sylvestro, as well as the challenges in a far-flung and evolving market.
Plant Engineering: How do you measure, manage, and maintain quality in the manufacturing operation?
Sylvestro: Pratt & Whitney is committed to being the world-class provider of dependable engines, propulsion systems, parts, and services that meet customer expectations. Quality, compliance to requirements, and continuous improvement are keys in everything we do.
The United Technologies Corp. ACE (Achieving Competitive Excellence) operating system is an integral part of the continuous improvement process at P&W. ACE is our proprietary operating system to ensure world-class quality in our products and processes. With its relentless focus on increasing efficiency and reducing waste, ACE is integral to the company's performance model. Facilities worldwide use the operating system to improve quality and customer satisfaction while lowering cost.
We continuously measure and track many aspects of our quality performance and rely heavily on our skilled employees to evaluate their processes to find ways to eliminate waste and continuously improve the business.
PE: There are so many moving parts—product and people—in a facility like this. How do you keep everyone engaged, informed, and on task?
Sylvestro: Pratt & Whitney’s Middletown, Conn., facility is approximately 2 million sq ft. Globally, we are responsible for more than 19 million sq ft of manufacturing, assembly, test, and office space, located in about 22 countries worldwide. We support customers in more than 180 countries.
Our employees continue to tell us that they are interested in staying informed on company news and events, so we continue to evolve our open and honest communications processes and tools to help them do their jobs and stay aligned with company strategy and priorities. Some of the robust tools we use include: quarterly all-hands meetings; toolbox talk meetings (team meetings), and our company intranet, which includes leadership messages and articles on program milestones, industry news, policy enhancements, and employee features from across the globe.
In addition, we use the ACE operating system, which incorporates a set of tools that helps our organization codify processes, identify process improvement opportunities, solve problems, and assist with decision-making. All employees are trained and empowered to implement the standard processes across the company through standard work.
One of the key tenets of ACE is to gather feedback from employees, as well as from internal and external customers, to ensure we are delivering on our commitments and continuously identify areas for improvement.
PE: Why are you optimistic about your own manufacturing operation?
Sylvestro: We just came out of the Paris Airshow, where we announced new orders for more than 1,000 engines, including options. We now have more than 4,500 orders and commitments for our PurePower engine family, including options, from more than 40 customers around the world. This helps us maintain our lead position of more than 50% of Airbus A320neo engine orders. The overall market response to our next generation engine family continues to be very strong.
In addition, we are the only engine manufacturer powering fifth-generation fighters today. Those include the F135 for the F-35 Lightning II—known also as the Joint Strike Fighter—and the F119 powering the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor.
In the next five years we are ramping up production significantly, and we will be delivering volumes of engines not seen since the early 1980s, so it’s a very exciting time for us. We are ahead of the curve, and preparing for this volume by transforming our global operations. These next generation engine programs are giving us the opportunity to increase assembly and machining capacity globally, invest in smart technologies, introduce new capabilities, and improve our processes and flow in our factories to be leaner.
PE: What is the best thing you do in your plant today? What area of your operation are you most proud of?
Sylvestro: State-of-the-art technology and innovation continue to shape our manufacturing processes, and the increased use of advanced manufacturing techniques is something I am particularly excited about in operations. Some of the complex machining processes we have developed in recent years are reducing lead times for certain operations by 40% or more just by using innovative manufacturing techniques, tooling, and programs. It is fantastic to see this happen.
In addition, our use of additive manufacturing enables new manufacturing solutions in terms of design, speed, flexibility, and affordability. For example, we can use additive manufacturing to print complicated hollow parts that weigh less and are less expensive to produce compared to parts made with conventional methods.
Over these past 25 years, we have advanced our experience in additive manufacturing and rapid prototype techniques with various materials including metals.
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Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.
There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.
But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.
Read more: 2015 Salary Survey