Total staffing as of July 2012 was 208 employees: 164 in the assembly facility and 44 in the customer service center. According to Krull, “We have a very diverse and talented workforce here at our Melbourne facility. Our technicians average about 17 years of experience. We have 160 production employees and 40 of these are former NASA contractors. Some were recruited from competitors, local companies, and different branches of the military.
“Each new hire had four weeks of training that included lean manufacturing processes, continuous improvement concepts, safety, and other technical courses provided in-house and through Brevard Community College. Technicians that operate special tools, fixtures, and machines had an additional six weeks of intense hands-on training at the Embraer Aircraft Manufacturing facility in Gaviao Peixoto, Brazil.”
All executives and staff state that “their success at the Melbourne assembly facility was due to the ease of acculturation with their Brazilian counter parts and the exceptional level of teamwork between the two work groups.”
Final assembly line
This modern facility can produce both the Phenom 100 and 300 in single-line configuration. Currently 160 technicians working two shifts are producing two Phenom 100s a month and, depending on economics and customer demand, could increase that rate to eight per month.
Production of the Phenom 100 began in June of 2011 and to date, 14 Phenom 100s have been produced and eight delivered. In the afternoon of our tour the executives announced that two more Phenom 100s had been sold that day. This September, the Phenom 300 assembly started in Melbourne, with its first delivery expected in first quarter 2013.
The fuselage, empennage, and wing assemblies for the 100 and 300s are built in Brazil and shipped in very large boxes via sea and land freight to the Melbourne assembly facility. There, assemblers install windows, landing gears, all systems, flight deck equipment, instrument panels, engines, and the customer’s choice of interiors and paint scheme. The aircraft components, piece parts, hardware, and support equipment are clearly marked and strategically placed at each of the five assembly stations. The aircraft in work moves one station every seven days.
On tour, I did not see or hear hand drills, impact wrenches, rivet guns, or service units; no aircraft engines running up or planes taxiing by and most notably, no technicians shouting to be heard over the din of it all. The facility appeared to be staffed by a small number of young, diverse assemblers and support specialists who were friendly and usually presented big smiles as we walked by their workstations.
The Melbourne facility is conducting the beta test for Embraer’s first “paperless” production line and one that “uses leaner, cleaner, and faster assembly processes.” I found this “paperless” line concept intriguing. Granted it was a few years back, but my experience in heavy jet overhaul and light manufacturing was that before the aircraft or part could be released for service, the associated paperwork had to equal the weight of the aircraft or part.
When asked for more details, Krull gave us an ample description of Embraer’s Manufacturing Execution System (MES). “It is a computer-controlled, browser-based data collection and reporting system that supports RF handheld intelligent devices and barcode scanners. Embraer staff use a tablet and pen stylus for entering and retrieving information when at workstations, in and around the Phenom production line.”
Some examples of information contained in the MES system are work instructions, specifications, or data from a component being installed. When the technicians are working away from plane side, they use kiosks with large screens and keyboards. The MES system collects data about process, quality, downtimes, and maintenance.
Krull says that one of the “challenges” was translating all the technical documentation from Portuguese to English. As we toured the assembly area, we saw many assemblers using the MES. In addition to having this technology available, the engineers and production control support staff are located a short distance from the production line.
Mark Miller, production operations manager, was one of our tour guides and when asked how well the assembly process worked said, “There had been a few challenges early on but they had quickly worked through those and now operations were very smooth. Current production was just a bit ahead of schedule.”
Embraer opened the Melbourne production facility in February 2011 and the nearby 58,000-square-foot Global Customer Center on December 5, 2011.