Zodiac Aerospace


Zodiac Aerospace is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of commercial aircraft seats for airlines and major aircraft manufacturers in the U.S. and abroad. Product lines include first class, business class, and tourist class seats.


Headquarters and manufacturing facilities are located on a half-million-square-foot campus in Gainesville, Texas, which employs over 850 people. Zodiac was the first manufacturer to successfully design and test aircraft seats to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s first Technical Standard Order certification.


The Situation

In recent years Zodiac had faced a tremendous downward pressure on price in the airline industry. In order to remain competitive, Zodiac set objectives to drastically reduce costs. However, they did not want to lose their excellent reputation for product quality and customer satisfaction that had taken more than 60 years to build. While strongly adhering to the principles of Lean manufacturing, Zodiac pursued their goal of reducing operating costs.


One immediate problem facing Zodiac was the inability of the current routing equipment to keep up with production requirements. The demand for plastic food trays for commercial aircraft seats had far exceeded the capacity of the single routing machine in use at company. Zodiac was faced with the decision whether to buy a second machine that was identical to the one they already had, or search for a different routing machine that may be better suited for their particular product. Zodiac opted to search for a different routing machine since the existing equipment was very over-sized for their needs. After a fruitless search of traditional off-the-shelf routing machines and repeated unwillingness of commercial vendors to customize a machine for them, Zodiac contacted the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC) with the request to help them find a “right-sized” routing machine for producing plastic food trays for commercial aircraft.


The Solution

TMAC met with Zodiac engineers to get familiar with the routing process requirements, and then conducted a thorough search of the vendors that supply traditional routing equipment. None were able to offer customized or COTS routing equipment that was suitable for Zodiac’s products.


TMAC began looking at alternate, novel method for routing the trays, and suggested a robotic based routing cell as one possible approach. Zodiac was open to the idea, but skeptical since almost all routing in industry is performed with traditional computer numerically controlled routing machines.


TMAC offered a feasibility study on robot-based routing as a proof-or-concept for the high-risk areas of the project. The TMAC facility is equipped with multiple robotic systems, which allowed the feasibility work to be carried out with no capital expense Zodiac.


Based on the very successful results from the feasibility study, Zodiac approved a project for TMAC to design and fabricate a customized, right-sized, robot-based routing cell for cutting their plastic food tray components. Five months later, TMAC delivered a fully operational robotic routing cell to the Zodiac facility. The performance of the new system surpassed the existing traditional routing machine in terms of cycle time, cutting quality, footprint and operating costs.


The Results

  • 65% foot print reduction
  • Safer & cleaner workplace
  • 23% cycle time reduction
  • Improved tray quality and components (higher cut quality & higher precision)
  • Simplified part load/unload
  • More streamlined work procedures


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