Engineers in overalls

The digital transformation in complex industrial contexts is beneficial to the process, to work areas, and can even increase professionalism, or inspire new ones. 

Jun 2018

In the school year that just ended, the Paola Garelli Institute in Rivalta, Turin - a few steps away from the Avio Aero headquarters and its major industrial plant - wanted to illustrate the school diary of elementary and secondary school children using photos of the main aircraft and related engines built with components designed and manufactured at the company's nearby premises, as well as in other Italian locations. The young students were able to become familiar with and recognize, for instance, the Boeing 737 and 787, along with their LEAP or GEnx engines, including the Eurofighter Typhoon with its super-powerful EJ200.

This initiative shows how, even on a social level, this industrial area - along with those of other Turin centers in Borgaretto and Sangone - as usually the undisputed realm of the automobile, is now being rediscovered as a production center with a high technological content for the aeronautical industry. This is a turnaround that we have also recently found in the professional stories of engineers or production experts who switched from the automotive sector to aviation or, even more so, along the paths of students of Turin high schools or universities who aspire to work in the Rivalta center of excellence.

Armando Maiorano is altogether a professional case of this kind: he successfully completed his mid-to-high-level training at the Plana Technical Institute in Turin. Plana is one of the technical-industrial secondary schools that, along with various other Turin institutes, conducts professional training programs, as well as national programs of “alternating work and study periods,” or apprenticeships at the Rivalta Avio Aero premises, and more.

The Rivalta factory now covers 123 thousand sqm and houses the GE Aviation centers of excellence for the manufacturing of rotating components (i.e. turbines and turbomachinery) and transmissions (accessory drive trains as well as power and helicopter). This latter center, globally known as Gears, alone covers a plant area of about 15300 sqm, and is the largest in terms of people employed (over 330) and therefore machinery, and houses within it six production units clearly included in the transmissions product: spur gears, bevel gears, power transmissions, crankshafts, service and testing. Until recently, these “manufacturing cells,” so-called in the rough industrial jargon, were actually five. Armando, along with his manager at the time, Andrea Maddalone, has completed a project to split the cell previously known as Service and Testing.

“I came to Rivalta 11 years ago, freshly graduated from the Plana Institute: I was a machine operator right here in Gears,” tells us Armando revealing a very relevant first element of his career so far. “Then I became a supervisor for the team working in the former Service and Testing area; after about two years, always with Andrea, we considered the fact that flow in the area we worked in could definitely be improved. So we started a lean manufacturing project to achieve this streamlining, after which we separated Service from Testing.” Looking at it through the simplified approach typical of “lean manufacturing”: Service includes a whole series of operations and processes of surface and metallurgical inspection and control of all products from the Gears center (non-destructive testing, special processes, electrolytic and thermal controls). Testing, on the other hand, checks dimensions, surfaces and total adjacency of the product to the validated design (high geometric complexity, we analyze up to over 200 details in a gear, every single tooth, or part of the engine).

The Service and Testing area was the largest one of all before being split in two: unlike the other areas, it did not perform machining and processes on a specific product category, instead all types of product have to go through Service and Testing. In fact, it is a key step in the production chain for aircraft engine components: it is the phase immediately preceding that of final assembly, which in turn is completed with delivery to the customer. For the Global Supply Chain personnel in Avio Aero, the phase where the product must have flawless quality and finish.

“Applying the ‘lean’ improvements directly to the production flow of our area, allowed us to better sort the processes and divide them by type, whereas the situation was effectively more chaotic before these improvements: order and cleanliness have a significant impact on KPI and lead time,” continues Armando, showing that the progress of production performance indicators is essential at the factory, along with the flow time of each individual product. Having those parameters at inadequate levels causes stress, problems, delays, and therefore everyone’s full attention is required to work not just efficiently, but satisfactorily as well. 

Another mantra at the Aviation and Avio Aero factories, is the so-called “continuous improvement.” Which is why Andrea and Armando—not content with the division between Service and Testing—also almost immediately adopted the digital tools disseminated throughout the Avio Aero factories. To this end, Armando adds that “Testing was the first cell of its kind—with a number of operations and product types particularly high and diverse—to adopt the digital Dashboards that enable every single operator, supervisor and Manufacturing Engineer to view, clearly and dynamically, the work queue, priorities and daily scheduling. Thanks to the data gathered via the Evo system (which is also implemented almost throughout the Rivalta plant so as to enable the tracking of every operation undergone by every individual part - Ed.) the Dashboards can be consulted every day, quickly and easily, in addition to being shared with all the other departments (such as Finance, HR, Logistics, for instance) involved in production: in real time, without bias or difficulties in finding information, and frequently. We even halved the average flow time of individual parts in Testing.”  

The other aspect of Armando’s journey, and perhaps a more relevant one, is that, in addition to the work done with Andrea and the Service and Testing teams, along with the Lean Manufacturing team, geared toward implementing the various improvements in the areas described, he has also managed to improve his professional profile, and we could say his life outside of work as well. Indeed, what’s been left out on Armando is that he is 32 years old, he’s been working for the past eleven years, and for the past two he’s been attending Mechanical Engineering at the Politecnico di Torino. And his children are 3 and 6 years old.