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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Opening the door to higher productivity

Republic Poly team helps maker of airline meal carts improve assembly process
The Straits Times - May 14, 2014
By: Amelia Teng
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Opening the door to higher productivity Some members of the Republic Polytechnic team involved in the project are (clockwise from bottom left) Mr Jaymus Ow Yang, 20; Mr Lew Rong Shun, 22; Mr Wong Jia Hao, 23; and Mr Donald Choo, 25, with senior lecturer Banna Roa, their supervisor. The team hel

IMAGINE having a hand in helping a leading maker of airline meal carts redesign its factory space.

That was what 11 aviation management students from Republic Polytechnic did for Diethelm Keller Aviation, during their internships and final-year projects.

The Swiss company has a facility at Changi North Crescent to design and produce the carts that cabin crew push down the aisles to serve meals, known as galley inserts.

The supplier for American plane-maker Boeing had set the students a mission: raise the productivity of the cart door assembly process by 25 per cent.

The students, who are graduating this year, did even better. After changing the firm's work equipment and space, they raised its productivity by 27 per cent - an equivalent of 204 more doors per worker each month.

The one-year project, which was partly funded by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, started a year ago.

Some students started by doing research and collecting data from the company.

The second group - made up of five students doing a final-year project and another two interns at the firm - continued the work.

One of the students doing his final-year project, Mr Wong Jia Hao, 23, said: "It's very satisfying to see the results of our work. In classrooms, problems are simulated and usually there are definite answers. In the real world, what you think is right may not be suitable."

An inflight meal cart is made up of different parts - a base, side panels and doors.

Making the doors takes more time and expertise because there are more components, like a locking mechanism, and extra parts like the airline tag, said Mr Banna Rao, a senior lecturer in aviation management at Republic Polytechnic.

This leads to a bottleneck at that stage, he added.

Faced with this challenge, the students came up with various ways to speed up production.

One way was to use a more efficient drilling machine known as a router that could work three times faster than the existing one.

Then, they reorganised the layout of the assembly space - an area about half the size of a basketball court, making it more "linear" and reducing the distance between work stations.

To cut down the time workers spent looking for their tools, the students also put up a frame at each workstation to hold in one place devices like riveting tools, hammers and cutters.

Their methods worked.

A worker at the firm can make 15 doors per hour now, up from 10 to 11 in the past.

"We came up with three possible layouts before the company chose one. Along the way, we must have made about 100 changes," said Mr Wong.

Another student, Mr Donald Choo, 25, added: "One challenge was that the workers were very used to their working style and they had to get used to the new system."

The project is part of an agreement between the Swiss company and the polytechnic to deepen learning opportunities for students.

Intern Taufiq Matin, 19, said: "In the work environment, I learnt there's no right or wrong answer. You never know which solution will work."

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