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MIT Technology Review

35 Innovators Under 35

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  • Les Welch

    32

    Les Welch has been fixing equipment ever since his bike broke in sixth grade. At aerospace giant Lockheed Martin he fixes manufacturing. Welch is applying lean-production techniques pioneered for auto assembly to the manufacture of F-22 fighter planes, bucking the defense industry’s history of inefficient production. Traditionally, aircraft have been built in one spot, with assembly workers walking many kilometers (this has been measured) to fetch thousands of tools and parts. In Welch’s approach, a nascent air- craft will move from one work center to another, each designed to minimize worker movement and maximize assembly convenience. Inventory is also reduced. Eric Ouellette at Lockheed Martin says the changes will cut manufacturing time up to 40 percent. Ouellette, formerly Welch’s senior manager, says Welch is “passionate about eliminating waste.” Before earning his industrial engineering degree, Welch ran manufacturing for a large family business that made aluminum toolboxes for pickup trucks. As for his personal tinkering, it’s now directed at his 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer.