Pratt & Whitney (part of United Technologies Corporation – UTC) is a world leader in the design, manufacture, and service of aircraft engines and auxiliary power units. Headquartered in East Hartford, Connecticut, US, in 2014 it counted over 31,000 employees across the world, serving more than 11,000 customers and making net sales of $14.5 billion.
Excellence is one of six Pratt & Whitney’s (P&W) core values. With the aim to continuously improve the company’s processes and ensure excellence is represented in all and every product and service its customers receive, P&W applies lean product development principles and other continuous improvement techniques. Through its journey, the company established best practices in several aspects of lean product development.
P&W established a lean product development strategy that addresses challenges related to the “fuzzy front end” of the product development process and consists of focusing on new engine development programs, making knowledge visible and creating knowledge briefs to document learnings. P&W’s products are engineered-to-order (ETO), which is why the company puts a lot of effort in customer requirements’ management, ensuring they are well understood and clearly translated into the organizational language in order to design a good product.
P&W invests heavily in the competence and proficiency development of its employees. Their internal Engineering Technical University (ETU) allows for employees to be trained through class lectures and online support by on-the-job trainings, where development is achieved through mentoring, coaching and supervision.
One of P&W’s best practices in lean product development is the use of quality tools that enable employees to produce reliable products and allow for organizational learning. Knowledge Briefs (K-Briefs) are used to concisely document the key knowledge gained during the execution of any program activities and to facilitate the problem-solving process.
Set-based concurrent engineering is an integral part of P&W’s product development process and is enabled by methods and techniques that help visualize the design space. Decision maps are used to identify the knowledge gap that can be filled with “Robust Design” methods to visualize and understand the design space as well as variation and uncertainty.
P&W’s improvement process is enabled though the use of an Achieving Competitive Excellence system (ACE) common to all UTC subsidiaries, which was introduced in 2005 and is followed ever since. The three elements of ACE – tools, competency, and culture – provide the basis for delivering value to UTC customers and stakeholders. ACE training is similar to Six Sigma training, with very specific series of courses in lean thinking, process control and variation management that enable employees to continuously improve. Pratt & Whitney uses several games and simulations to teach its employees about different ACE techniques in an innovative way.
The company estimates that its component-level “Design for Variation” initiatives have yielded a 64% to 88% return on investment by reducing design iterations, improving manufacturability, increasing reliability, improving on-time deliveries and providing other performance benefits.