People Innovation Excellence

Foam, Leather and Fixes
ISE Magazine – Volume : 49, Number: 04
By Raj Sanne

Upholstery processes are common in manufacturing seats used in various applications – theaters, commercial aircraft, business jets and others. The basic requirements for any seat are a frame consisting of the seat, backrest and armrest, which are either assembled or welded together. These are covered with soft materials like foam and leather to make the seating comfortable for people

Examining the current process
The seat frames used in the aircraft are built to highly demanding engineering tolerances to ensure passenger safety and comfort. They have to meet Federal Aviation Administration guidelines that cover impact resistance and gravitational forces for when the aircraft is flying, along with other requirements. The seats used in all types of aircraft are made by only a few manufacturers.

For the aircraft company in question, the seat frames were being supplied by an established vendor. Once the frames arrived, the seats were built to meet FAA-specified requirements. The various processes involved in building seats are:

  • Sheet metal modification
  • Disassembly
  • Foam build-up for arms, back, cushion and shroud
  • Cut and sew leather for parts listed in previous step

Looking for improvement
The department had evolved over time, and no objective study had been done to determine opportunities for improvements or establish standards required to make seats for an aircraft. Based on discussions with management, the enterprise decided to examine the processes. Management’s goals for the project were:

  • To do a detailed study and identify improvement opportunities
  • Develop a new scientific layout to optimize flow and minimize nonvalue-added activities
  • Develop standard hours for all processes in building a batch of 10 seats
  • Document processes for easy reference, particularly so the company could track and train new associates

The project used a combination of work measurement, estimation, observations and discussions with associates to do detailed studies that documented all processes involved in building the seats, including the processes of modifying the seats and covering them with foam and leather. The study aimed to let everyone get a sense of participation, along with the opportunity to offer their ideas for improvements to make sure that the study was objective.

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