“Do whatever it takes.”

Four simple but powerful words, conveyed by UK government officials, were what inspired GE Aviation’s Cheltenham site to partner with GE Healthcare in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in March. While ventilators have been in high demand to aid in patient care, the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) was also in need of additional healthcare monitors—devices that deliver patient data and clinical information, everything from temperature to heart rate to blood pressure and more. On May 4, the Cheltenham team was able to answer this call when they shipped the first 96 GE Healthcare CARESCAPE™ units from the Power and Avionics manufacturing facility.

Checking a CARESCAPE™ monitor on the production line. Photo credit (top and above): GE Aviation

The project team was able to stand up operations to deliver 300 units per week—no mean feat considering they were committed to begin shipments within 32 days. Although the team had hands-on technical and manufacturing capability to support the demand, new processes and materials called for a great deal of collaboration between Aviation and Healthcare stakeholders. Volunteers from around the business rallied to support the initiative, many of whom managed their normal workload while also devoting time to the new production line.

Lean manufacturing principles were immediately implemented to ensure quality and efficiency. It was clear from the onset that standard operating procedures were needed in order to maximize time while guaranteeing continuity as volunteers rotated in and out of the project.

Case in point: New volunteers need to be able to produce good quality assemblies in sync with the 13-minute Takt time. The team put together a visual scheduling system (or kanban, in Lean parlance) to help the Healthcare sourcing and logistics teams understand what materials were needed to meet the weekly manufacturing outputs. Using the concept of “3P”—Production, Preparation, Process—they quickly defined the manufacturing layout, while abiding by the two-meter social distancing rule. Visual management played a vital role in  getting the workstations dialed in, which in turn encouraged a regular flow of material through the production line.

This is not the only area where the GE Aviation team has stepped in to support neighboring communities amid the pandemic crisis. Assembly technicians from a site in Lafayette, Indiana, traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, in March to assist in ventilator assembly and a team at GE Additive in Cincinnati designed scalable 3D printing applications that could help supply PPD to frontline medical personnel and GE Healthcare field service employees.

Fresh off the Cheltenham production line, these B450s stand ready to ship. Photo credit: GE Aviation

“The Cheltenham team has and will continue to ‘rise to the challenge of building a world that works,’” said Angie Norman, Power Systems Transformation Leader. “We’re delighted to be able to partner with another business on this project to create a positive impact in our communities amid this crisis. While the circumstances that necessitated this effort are far less than ideal, it is nice to know that our team is able to be a part of the solution.”