Boeing is accelerating the assembly of its Global Positioning System (GPS IIF) satellites through the use of a pulse-line manufacturing approach. This process was adapted from the Boeing 737 airplane production line.
“Using this pulse-line approach, we are able to build up to six satellites per year,” says Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems. “This is the highest satellite production rate in Boeing history, and it ensures we will deliver the remaining GPS IIF satellites on schedule.”
Boeing is currently under contract for a total of 12 GPS IIF satellites for the US Air Force. Two are in orbit; two have been completed and are being stored until launch; and eight are in various stages of pulse-line production.
The next GPS IIF launch is scheduled during the third quarter of 2012. Boeing says it is prepared to deliver several GPS IIF satellites within the next year.
“Similar to an aircraft assembly line, the GPS IIF pulse line efficiently moves a satellite from one designated work area to the next at a fixed rate,” says Jan Heide, GPS IIF program director. “Within the four pulse-line work centers, we’ve incorporated lean manufacturing processes, new tooling, and additional work-planning packages to improve efficiency and reduce cost.”
The GPS pulse line can accommodate four satellites at any given time. Wait time between tasks is reduced or eliminated by staging necessary parts and tools at the point of use at each workstation, creating a smooth process flow. Along the pulse line, satellites flow to work centers dedicated to four manufacturing stages: vehicle assembly, initial test, thermal-vacuum testing, and final test. The line delivers one space vehicle to storage every two to three months.