Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

Kim Smith, Vice President of Attack Helicopter Programs, The Boeing Company

Coming to Boeing Defense, Space, and Security in Mesa, Arizona from operations and management posts in Commercial Airplanes and other Boeing businesses, Kim Smith [no relation to the former AHS Deputy Director or the Kim Smith at the FAA] now oversees production of the AH-64E Apache Guardian for the U.S. Army and international customers. She draws comparisons with the Commercial Airplanes business and observes, “There are differences such as in the acquisition processes, but there really are more similarities than differences: the importance of being very engaged with your customer and your supply chain partners; the importance of continuing to innovate and stay relevant to your customer’s needs; certainly the importance of affordability because the customer needs best-value for their money. Last but not least, it’s trust with your employees, bringing their best ideas to bear.”

Boeing has no shortage of good ideas. The enterprise uses lean manufacturing initiatives to improve quality and cut cost. Ms. Smith notes, “We’ve done that here with the Apache where we’ve introduced the Echo model into the production line. We’ve streamlined from two production lines to one and are now getting our hours-to-assemble per aircraft better than they’ve ever been.” Space savings from consolidating AH-64D and -64E production will enable Boeing in Mesa to build the AH-6i for international customers in the same facility. “It goes back to having a mindset of resourcefulness and lean manufacturing,” says Ms. Smith, “a culture within your team expecting continuous improvement. When you set the bar that you’re going to do things better than ever before, and you’re going to do more for less, people find great, creative, innovative ways to make that happen.”

Learning Lines
Growing up in DeWitt, Michigan in America’s automotive heartland, Kim Smith had no aerospace influences but found early interest in engineering, math, and science. “My father was a public school teacher. Between him and my aunts and uncles – teachers and principals – my family is a family of educators. I enjoyed mathematics from the earliest I can remember. I have very vivid memories of eighth grade and my first physics class. My teacher was Mr. Arbanas. I remember getting exposed to Newton’s Laws and lots of hands-on experiments. I think that was a bit of awareness for me and something that really energized me and sparked me in a way that hadn’t before.”

Math and science drew Ms. Smith to Michigan State University. “I actually received a small scholarship to join Michigan State’s Honors Physics program, and for a girl who was going to be footing a fair amount of her bill, that scholarship was very enticing. I fairly quickly transitioned to the engineering school. I did some soul-searching about what I wanted my future to be, and I felt as if mechanical engineering still pulled on the enjoyment I got from the physical sciences and the material sciences, and I felt that it provided a broader range of options for me. I didn’t see myself long-term going deep into research and development laboratories per se.”

Mechanical engineering studies at Michigan State provided a sprinkling of aerodynamics and thermodynamics, but an on-campus career fair afforded an introduction to aerospace giant Boeing. “I remember interviewing with loads of companies throughout those couple of days and I was really impressed with the Boeing leaders who were present. I then had the opportunity to visit the Renton, Washington site that at the time designed and produced the 737 Classic and the 757. They were just bringing on board the Next Generation 737. I got more exposure to the amazing product, the technologies, so I accepted Boeing’s offer.”

An initial research and development assignment with Boeing Commercial Airplanes focused on design and materials. “From there, I thought I needed to get a better understanding of the product, the design, and the build processes. I knew there was no better way to do that than get involved with manufacturing. I transferred to a production engineering support job where they manufactured the 737 and 757 wings.” Talking to production line workers provided valuable insight into wing manufacture. “I eventually ended up leading some pretty fascinating projects in the early days of moving production lines, especially large-scale moving lines for the airplane or the wing itself. I ended up leading a major project for the 737 wings. It was a great learning experience – not just on the technical front but learning how you influence and implement change.”

Lean manufacturing initiatives encountered resistance and required a new perspective. “One of the phrases we used to use from my early Commercial Airplanes days was ‘try-storming.’ It was getting people out of the brainstorming mode in the conference rooms to mock-up new ways of building and assembling things. We built safe but wooden stands in the factory to match up with existing tooling, and we simulated the wing moving through the build process by moving through temporary tooling.”

An opportunity at GKN Sintered Metals made Kim Smith a plant manager with a diverse customer base and profit and loss responsibility. Boeing subsequently valued the outside experience. “I actually came back in our commercial fabrication division as a Quality senior leader. I supported all the programs in Renton and Everett. The Commercial Airplanes business is an exciting business. It’s obviously larger in scale. The product is larger. The stakeholder group is larger whether you’re looking at the diversity of customers or all the supply chain partners. The customer base is obviously different.”

Rotary Wing
As Boeing vice president of Environment, Health and Safety, Kim Smith helped the company reduce its environmental footprint – energy and water consumption and emissions – while increasing deliveries of commercial and military aircraft by more than 50%. She also led company-wide efforts that improved workplace safety 25%. Ms. Smith came to Boeing Attack Helicopters in April 2014. “Here today at the Mesa site, we do a diverse statement of work. Not only do we build the Apache and the AH-6, but we have Strategic Manufacturing Centers where we do electrical work and composite work. Our employees proudly supply quality products and support for Boeing programs across both the defense and commercial portfolios.”

Lean initiatives continue across Boeing product lines, in offices and facilities. Ms. Smith explains, “We have teams continually setting goals and objectives to improve quality, decrease flow, and drive those additional efficiencies in place. Sometimes, it’s the simplest ideas that get there, but it requires a lot of collaboration and really understanding your design, understanding your build processes, and constantly looking for opportunities to improve.

According to Ms. Smith, the new AH-64E continues to benefit from design, process, and business improvements. “I’ve watched the build-hours week over week move and track down the learning curve per our plan. There’s a really great collaboration here between our engineering IPTs [Integrated Product Teams], our supply chain team, and our Quality and Manufacturing organizations. We’re constantly implementing quality improvements both for flow and cost reduction.” She adds, “We also have implemented – as we’ve done across The Boeing Company – an initiative called Partnering For Success (PFS). PFS enables close collaboration with suppliers to ensure quality while reducing cost and providing value for customers in a more-for-less environment.” The Apache and other Mesa-based efforts require such supplier collaboration. “We’re getting great structural assemblies and mission equipment from key U.S. and international suppliers,” notes Ms. Smith. “We’re always looking for the best-value sourcing solution for our products as well as co-production opportunities with our customers.”

Boeing in Mesa has also expanded its in-house composite manufacturing capabilities to produce the AH-64E Composite Main Rotor Blade. Ms. Smith also notes the site has implemented 3D printing technologies in some areas: “We have benefited from additive manufacturing – the efficiencies gained in the development cycle through rapid prototyping. We actually have production parts here that we do with additive manufacturing as well. They’re more structural components that don’t get exposed to a lot of fatigue loads, but we’re always pushing the envelope to see where we can do design conversions to introduce additive manufacturing into actual production hardware. We’re tied into the subject matter experts around and outside the Boeing Enterprise.”

Boeing Attack Helicopters drew on its own experienced staff and retirees to gain insight into the new AH-6i, and the integrated light scout/attack helicopter benefits from Apache improvements. “The synergies between the Apache and the AH-6 are tremendous,” says Kim Smith. “It’s amazing when you fly in an AH-6 and sit in an Apache. There are quite a few similarities. You can imagine that might give a customer a complementary set of products just like we do in Commercial sales.”

The new AH-6i benefits from in-house air vehicle and systems integration expertise at Mesa. “We think it’s important to do it all,” says Ms. Smith. “You can’t achieve the successes we’ve had by separating the platform from systems integration. I think the Apache is a classic example of that. We have a partnership with Sikorsky right now on JMR [the Joint Multi-Role rotorcraft], and we were ecstatic that we were awarded a contract to advance the technology demonstration. We have men and women here in Mesa who are part of that effort.

“Joining the rotorcraft world has underscored for me the importance of relationships. It’s an exciting sector to be involved with, but it’s a smaller community. One of the first things I did when I came on board was join the American Helicopter Society. I saw it was an opportunity to build my network and continue to learn.”

Leadership Profile: Vertiflite January/February 2015