Posted by William Mullane | November 7, 2016
Quest Aircraft Company, based in the northern Idaho town of Sandpoint, manufactures a new 10-seat single engine turboprop utility airplane known as the KODIAK. The aircraft is built around a commitment to modern Short Takeoff & Landing (STOL) design, rugged construction, turbine power and high useful load. In 1998, Tom Hamilton and Dave Voetmann of the Idaho Air Group recognized the need for a modern back-country aircraft designed to meet the extraordinary demands of humanitarian aviation in remote areas of the world. Tom and Dave brought together a group of visionaries who put their unique design on paper and lined up funding to get Quest Aircraft and the KODIAK off the ground. In order to make the aircraft less expensive for humanitarian organizations, the group targeted a wider range of end users. Quest Aircraft was officially launched in 2001 with a staff of 14. On October 16, 2002, the Quest team dedicated its new 27,000 square foot plant at the Sandpoint Municipal Airport and moved production work to the new facility. Quest now employs a workforce of 230 and is approaching its initial goal of producing one aircraft every ten days. Quest has a longer term goal of producing one aircraft every 2.5 days in order to meet increasing customer demand.
Quest’s original goal was to produce 25-30 aircraft per year using a conventional Material Requirements Planning (MRP) system to manage demand work flow. Because the aircraft was more successful than projected, Quest needed to ramp up production to 100 aircraft per year in the same facility. Quest began to explore Lean Manufacturing as a way to meet production goals. As a startup company rapidly adding staff, another big challenge was to educate and organize a workforce that included people with diverse backgrounds and work philosophies. Some new workers brought their own preconceptions of Lean to Quest while others had little or no previous exposure to Lean principles.
- Quest brought in an experienced aviation industry consultant to show key Quest managers how a Lean approach would help the company meet its production goals.
- Quest chose TechHelp to deliver Lean training because of its local presence, ability to deliver a realistic Lean simulation and hands-on teaching approach that linked to implementation on the plant floor.
- Key Quest personnel completed several Lean training classes including TechHelp’s Lean Enterprise Certification Program (LECP). LECP gave the team a thorough indoctrination to Lean and prepared them to organize and lead the company’s Lean Transformation.
- TechHelp’s LECP course included kaizens (continuous improvement activities) on the plant floor that produced hands-on learning and immediate results.
- An initial value stream mapping exercise led Quest to improve production by reorganizing the entire production line and each work cell in the line.
- TechHelp’s initial Principles of Lean Training Simulation helped make believers of Quest’s diverse workforce and gave the team a common language and methodology.
- Quest quickly applied Lean principles to the plant floor in order to better utilize space, materials, information and manpower.
- An initial plant wide 5S (workplace organization) kaizen helped create more organization and safety in the plant.
- Quest developed visual controls and story boards to monitor production problems and progress and improve communications.
- Quest calculated and applied cycle time, takt time and line balancing to smooth production and track key metrics to support goal attainment.
- Quest implemented a Kanban (signaling system to trigger action) system to better manage inventory.
- Initial Lean training led to the development of the Quest Production System and creation of a Lean culture throughout the entire organization.
Quest’s commitment to Lean and continuous improvement has allowed the company to:
- Retain $13 Million in sales.
- Retain 100 employees and add 50 new jobs.
- Realize $60,000 in cost savings.
- Invest over $1 Million in plant, equipment, workforce and information systems.
- Create efficiency by eliminating a central storeroom and moving all parts to their point of use.
- Improve cycle times and takt times by over 60% and make progress towards a production goal of producing one aircraft every 2.5 days.
- Reduce production line deviations by several hundred percent to a few per cell per aircraft.
- Improve employee morale by giving employees a better sense of control over their work processes.
Idaho State Senator, Shawn Keough presents the Summer 2008 Spirit of Continuous Innovation Award (SOCI) to Paul Schaller, CEO of Quest Aircraft in Sandpoint, Idaho with Representatives Eric Anderson & George Eskridge. Quest transitioned to a Lean Manufacturing system at its northern Idaho facility to meet demand for its innovative KODIAK aircraft.