Q&A with Rick Zaitonia, Kuka Systems Aerospace Group: Integrators Outsourcing Work Platforms

Between the robotics required to build the equipment to the hundreds of tools necessary to support the manufacturing process, engineers are overloaded with developing customized systems and tools that not only satisfy the needs of the manufacturing line, but also meet or exceed safety standards, utilize ergonomics that promote efficiency, and employ cutting-edge designs that require little maintenance or repair.

Rick Zaitonia, Project Manager at KUKA Systems Aerospace Group, approached Spika about outsourcing the work platforms for their client. After the partnership concluded, Spika interviewed Zaitonia about the successes and challenges of outsourcing the custom work platform design and manufacturing for his facility.

How were you designing/manufacturing work platforms before you outsourced them?

Before Spika, we didn’t really have a need for a modular, portable work stand. We were using large steel work platforms, fixed in place, and at a fixed height, which we designed and built in-house. Rather than moving the stands to the aircraft, we’d pull the parts of the aircraft up to the stands.

What drove you to consider outsourcing the work platform part of the system?

When we started the helicopter program, that’s when we needed to use the same work stand at different heights. The way our assembly line process was, we didn’t need a large fixed stand. We needed a portable, push-up stand. 

If we’re at a high volume and there’s work we need to offload to keep moving forward, we’ll outsource — if we’re not over capacity, we’ll keep it in house.

Read the full case study here

What were your primary concerns about outsourcing the design and manufacture of work platforms?

When we went out looking for it, it was going to be just the cost, making sure that it would fit into the budget. Also, just the functionality and quality of the stands. Could we find something that could fit into our operations that was good quality and cost effective.

What are the benefits of outsourcing the work platform portion of an assembly line?

Instead of us having to come up with custom designs for work platforms, we could go to the experts that already had the designs. We had a very complex large program and it freed up our resources to let the experts handle that portion and let us specialize in what we’re good at.

What would you caution people about outsourcing part of their design and manufacturing?

When you’re outsourcing something, it still reflects on your company, and you’re still responsible for the end product. We just have to make sure the outsourced product matches our standards. After finding Spika, our team did our homework and did a visit to the facility. One of our quality managers looked at the processes, quality reports, products, and system capabilities.  

We had visited one other facility prior to Spika’s. Their product and end result looked really nice, but their company was small and their processes just weren’t there to meet the volume and demand.

What type of company do you want to partner with if you choose to outsource your work platforms?

The relationship with the outsourcing company is more of a partnership and team effort than a vendor relationship. There has to be that ability for the design team to communicate and handle the design reviews together. There has to be cohesiveness and transparency for it to work. There’s no secrets, we’re not there to steal your intellectual properties.

Do you have any quantifiable results of money/time saved by outsourcing the work platform portion of your line?

It’s hard to quantify it due to the size of the project. I’ve had over 600-700 tools, so when you look at the work stand platforms, they may have been 10-15% of the project. In reality, we’re saving 10% of time because we’re not using up that resource.

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