At the "new" factories at Martin Marietta Corp.'s sprawlin Baltimore County complex, production-line workers reach for tools brought by motorized carts, gripe to engineers about design problems through computers, and hold regular team meetings with colleagues.
These and other changes are all part of a $15 million renovation now being completed at one of the area's largest and most storied factories. Here, near the banks of Middle River, armaments rolled from assembly lines into combat and astronauts prepped for the trip to the heavens.
Wooden-block floors laid in the haste of production in World War II have now been replaced by epoxy-coated concrete floors. Parts inventories have been trimmed and robots installed. Scattered work stations have given way to modern team groupings that reduce the time spent hauling around partially assembled jet engines.
"We're making the right kind of investment. Hopefully we'll get a payback," says Russ Mobley, facilities planning manager for Baltimore's Aero & Naval Systems, a unit of Bethesda's Martin Marietta.
The Middle River plant has undergone numerous renovations since Glenn L. Martin began making airplanes there in 1929. But the recent effort, which began last February after months of planning, is one of the most extensive. It directly affects 500 production workers and, by more closely integrating manufacturing with design and other aspects of production, touches all 1,800 engineers, sales personnel and other employees of the complex.
The plant makes products ranging from missile launchers and nose cones to jet engine components for commercial aircraft.
Not everything has changed. Only about 500,000 of the plant's 2 million square feet of production were rebuilt. And some battle-proven equipment, such as a turn-of-the-century borer, has been retained. But air conditioning has been installed for the first time in many areas, and new, brighter paint applied to the walls and machinery.
"This is a major restructuring of the plant," says spokesman AKamhi.
Along the way, the company has incorporated the latest in production theory, from "just-in-time" inventory control to paperless work flow and employee involvement.
The "Rapid Response Network," for example, allows production workers to reach an engineer through computer terminals at work
stations. In some cases, a beeper will be activated that can be de-activated by the worker only when he or she is satisfied with the response.
"A lot of people don't like that. It's kind of like a tattletale,Mobley says. "Anything we can do to get our quality up and costs down will help us."
Central tool rooms have been replaced by facilities closer to work stations and, in some cases, tools are delivered by %J motorized cart.
Along the way, some vestiges of the plant's history inevitably had to be removed. Within the walls of the plant, the China Clipper was born in 1935. The plane helped prove the feasibility of air cargo transportation.
At its peak early in World War II, Martin employed 53,000 workers, some of them housewives pressed into factory work and immortalized as the character "Rosie the Riveter."
The plant produced warplanes carrying names of the Marauder, built in 1939; the Mauler, 1943; and the SeaMaster, 1955. Later, astronauts received training at Middle River during the Apollo-Gemini projects.
Some tooling was performed on the fuel tank of the space shuttle, and the Titan missile -- used to launch the heaviest satellites into orbit -- was constructed at Middle River.
The launchers for the Pershing intermediate-range nuclear missile were built here as were those for the Patriot missile, which won accolades for its anti-missile accuracy during the Persian Gulf War.
William Dauber, 72, says the modern plant bears littlresemblance to the one he began working at in 1939.
"You had a drill and rivet gun and that's how you put them together," says Dauber, who retired in 1969.