Matthew Bromberg

Fast 5: Details of Pratt & Whitney’s Gatorworks

Matthew Bromberg, president of Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, talks with Lee Ann Shay about how GatorWorks, a rapid prototyping group of the company, will deliver 50% reductions in “it.” P&W announced GatorWorks on June 12 but actually launched it internally about one year ago.

GatorWorks’s objective is to cut engine development time for military engines by half. What metrics are you working toward for the first project?

Let me back up. Over the last few years, we have spent a lot of time listening to customers and getting feedback on what Pratt & Whitney is doing well, what we’re not doing well and what our priorities are. The Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force are looking for more agile and more rapid development, and more insertion of commercial capabilities into military technologies, whether that be suppliers, software, actual hardware technology. One of Pratt & Whitney’s strength is that we leverage our commercial and military businesses. If we step back at look at how successful we’ve been over multiple generations of products, we see that the large military engine development cycle hasn’t improved dramatically—it’s the 10-year cycle to go from a clean sheet to the next-generation of engines. That cycle does have some tremendous benefits. If you look at Pratt & Whitney’s single-engine reliability and safety records, we set the standard in the industry. If you look at the performance of the F135, it’s the most accomplished fighter engine ever produced. If you compare the F135 in its first 100,000 hours of service, which we just recently passed, to that of the F119 and F100, when each of those engines was at that point of service, we’re at 13 times more reliable at 100,000 hours.  Over time, to clarify, we’ve improved the reliability of the F119 and F100, but it goes to show the benefits of our development cycles. What we’re wrestling with is, how do we maintain the strengths of what Pratt & Whitney has, yet be responsive to the services.

So we’ve spent a fair amount of time over the last couple of years looking at options and benchmarking other companies. What resonated was to take the idea of taking a team offsite and give them three simple mandates: use all of Pratt’s intellectual property, don’t break the law and don’t hurt anybody. But at the same time, unburden them from the processes that they deem cumbersome or slow—but allow them to benefit from processes that enable the results I just talked about.

It’s the 75th anniversary of the launch of Skunkworks, and we launched GatorWorks. The concept is well written. We’re all fans of what Kelly Johnson and the team at Lockheed Martin did with phenomenal programs such as the F117, the SR71 and many in between. It you read Kelly Johnson’s autobiography, the situation that he and the team encountered back at Lockheed Martin at a much earlier time is no different than what we are encountered now. We want to move fast and to leverage technology. We wanted to create a team that is more risk tolerant and more capable. When we set the target to take 50% of the costs out, we actually set a broad target to take 50% of “it” out. “It” being cost, weight, development time and anything that is bad or anything we’ve struggled to do.

Some of the ways we will do that is leveraging a new supplier base and tools.

As an example, we have many suppliers who still work with paper prints. We’re working with them to migrate, but it takes times. For GatorWorks, one of the goals is to only work in a digital environment up front. We will only work with suppliers who can handle a digital environment and they will only work in a 3D digital environment. So by setting those requirements up front, it challenges some suppliers and we won’t be able to work with them. There are other suppliers with whom Pratt & Whitney does not have a relationship and we may be able to work with them. As an example, there are companies with capabilities with rapid development and rapid prototyping that may not have the traditional infrastructure and qualifications to work with a company like Pratt & Whitney, so we are challenged the team to work with them quickly and not burden them with some of the things we have, yet maintain that safety, reliability and performance pedigree. We’re working with some new suppliers: some of them are working, some of them are not working.

As an example of what the team is trying to do, we picked a small team of people working on a handful of projects. We vetted about a dozen projects last year. We launched four of them. Those projects are all at various stages of rapid development. The model we’re using is more similar to venture capital organizations. We provide seed funding and they deliver physical milestones instead of programmatic milestones that we use in the large development world. We’re focused on the basics: I want hardware in six months for this amount of money. If you don’t deliver, we may cancel this project. And if we cancel this project, it’s a good thing because we’ll step back and figure out why we didn’t succeed. We’ll pivot around that and move on to the next project. I almost hope some of the initial projects fail because that’s the way we are going to learn quickly. At the same time, I want the team to adopt a risk-tolerant philosophy so they understand that failure is acceptable because it’s a way that we can learn and move forward. None of four have failed yet. We won’t share the details of any project yet now, but I can tell you that it runs the gamut of everything we do for military engines. 

Is GatorWorks also a lab for new materials, 3D printing, new technologies?

Yes, yes and yes. There are some old suppliers who are willing to adopt their way of working with us. As an example, for us to procure something simple, it’s complicated. When this team procures something, they put it on a credit card. That is a step change. Not everything can be purchased on a credit card, but I can’t purchase anything for a program on a credit card. We have all of these processes, but you have to divorce yourself from them. You have to leverage, which is good, but try to dismiss what is not. That’s why it’s a small team and we’ve insulated them from the public eye so they can do things differently. Having launched about a year ago, I can tell you what they’re coming up with is exciting.

What are the major roadblocks, besides procurement, that GatorWorks clears?

The roadblocks are endless. Some of our processes are best in class, and you need solid processes because you could not have fifth-generation fighter propulsion with the reliability that we have. The flip side is that we have processes to manage processes. It’s like a super hero/super villain scenario. What makes us great and powerful creates our nemesis. 

Is GatorWorks limited to military engines?

It can move used across the board, but realize the cycle, impetus and need is on the military development cycle.

What is GatorWorks’ approach to the aftermarket?

There are two answers to that question. In GatorWorks, we are challenging some of our assumptions about what design for sustainability means. When we think of lifecycle cost management, we think of designing everything to achieve a Six Sigma type performance. We’re looking at changing that paradigm a bit—designing things for a more targeted performance. At the same time, my top priority is sustainment, so we are investing heavily.  

We have 7,000 large military engines in service today. We have done four things to double down on sustainment investment. The first is that we created a new dedicated sustainment organization. Secondly, we have launched with the Air Force a Digital Depot technology suite, a partnership with the Air Force and Tinker Air Force Base. We’re trying to upgrade MRO technologies. The industry has spent a fraction of the money on MRO capabilities that it has on manufacturing and design capabilities. We’re in the process of doing things like going paperless and inserting digital inspection technologies, which that alone could take up to 30% of module turnaround time out. Thirdly, we launched Fleet Command. We’ve been measuring and monitoring data coming off engines for decades but that data is in disparate systems and it’s hard for the military program managers to get the business intelligence that they need out of it. So we’re consolidating all of that together to a Fleet Command capability to provide real-time insights to engine performance. We’ve seen that the data allows us to reduce unexpected engine removals in a military fleet by up to 40%. The final thing we did was recognizing the government contracting process, we’re putting about $1.5 billion worth of spare parts on the shelf. We’re doing that in advance of the single-year government contract cycle because we know they’ll need it, which will help the readiness levels that our customers demand. We launched that last year and it’s in process.

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