On May 26, it will be 20 years since the assembly lines at Pratt & Whitney Canada’s Lethbridge, Alberta, engine plant opened. That gave rise to a remarkable story of performance and achievement that mirrors that of the iconic PT6 engine itself. The Lethbridge facility has been designated P&WC’s Centre of Excellence for the PT6 engine assembly and test. The roughly 145 employees at the plant have obviously taken that honour to heart.
The facility boasts excellent performance in terms of quality and productivity. The plant also has an outstanding employee health and safety record. That’s an enviable record for any type of manufacturing facility, let alone one that operates virtually around the clock, seven days a week.
When asked for an explanation of the plant’s performance, Marie Couillard, General Manager, responds: “It’s difficult to explain, but from the moment I set foot in the plant, I sensed a culture of performance among employees. The people here show extraordinary pride in what they do. It’s the technicians themselves who set and meet an exceptional standard every day.”
Robert Wong was at the plant on the day it opened and still works there today. He is responsible for Assembly and Test Technical Support. He attributes much of the plant’s stellar performance to the technicians’ participation in ACE (Achieving Competitive Excellence) initiatives. ACE is the company-wide P&WC operating system that builds continuous improvement in all of its operations. “ACE is basically the backbone of the quality systems we have in place at the plant,” he says. “Improving the quality of our assembly and test practices is a job we never consider as being done; we are constantly driven to do better.”
As an example, Robert points to the plant’s roughly 20-percent increase in the number of engines it produces annually today compared to when the plant first opened. “To help increase our output, we launched an ACE initiative a couple of years ago to maximize the use of our test cells,” he explains. Every engine that P&WC assembles must be evaluated in a test cell. The engine is started, and then its performance is carefully monitored to ensure that it meets its performance specifications. “Through the ACE process, we were able to reduce overall test time per engine by focusing on the time we spent preparing the engine for the test cell and other processes,” he says. “And we did that without in any way compromising the quality of the test process or the engine itself.”
Marie says that it takes about four or five days for an engine to be assembled as it moves through the 20 “stations” in the assembly process. In addition to rapid build times, the quality of the engines leaving the facility is best-in-class. Customer satisfaction and safety are the ultimate objectives. “Safety and cleanliness are very much embedded in the culture here at the plant,” she says. “A clean environment makes for a better workplace and means less likelihood of a foreign object slipping into the engine assembly, which is known as ‘foreign object damage.’”
Marie says that the technicians are highly flexible and trained to do multiple tasks in the assembly process. This allows the plant to operate very efficiently and creates optimal workflow.
P&WC is investing in expanding the Lethbridge plant’s capabilities. Starting in 2014, the facility will assemble PT6C helicopter engines. This will complement the assembly of the PT6C engines currently done at the Longueuil Plant.
Marie says that the Lethbridge plant’s employees, their guests and other P&WC employees and executives will gather on May 25 for an evening of celebration to mark the plant’s 20th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the PT6 engine.