Regular readers know I reserve a special place in my heart for Rube Goldberg supply chain convolutions, such as Boeing’s Dreamlifter and the Airbus Beluga. Fundamentally when you have to spend vast amounts of development and manufacturing resources on a product or tool that just enables you to transfer knowledge to suppliers (who may become competitors) and lengthen your supply chain, then something is wrong. It takes on an added dimension when you spin off one of your core operating groups, which then implements lean and becomes a very profitable supplier.
I had intended to simply post several photos of the Dreamlifter since, as the they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. I figured that those of you that try to slug through my thousand words every day would probably appreciate the break. But then an executive at Boeing had to go and actually brag about the Dreamlifter on his personal blog. That put me over the edge, again. As Randy Baseler, VP Marketing, said,
You know, I often get questions – including a recent one in our comments – about whether we plan to take the Dreamlifter project into a full-fledged freighter line. But Boeing has no plans to do so. This is a special-purpose aircraft designed specifically to support 787 production.
That wasn’t the bragging comment I mentioned, but just a comment that would make a normal lean person jump up and exclaim "say what??" And Boeing is supposedly lean, at least in their own minds. Don’t bother leaving comments on his blog… they "welcome all comments but all comments are moderated." Non sequitur indeed.
The Dreamlifter does look cool. It’s a marvel of engineering. And like most marvels it becomes a gleam in the eyes of kids… which is why there is already a toy version. I bet I know what the kids of Boeing employees are getting for Christmas!
Ok, I still haven’t gotten to the photos. Because our friend Mark at the Lean Blog sent along a related news story, which our new blog buddy Ron at the Lean Six Sigma Academy has also just commented on.
Boeing has outsourced most of the 787’s manufacturing to firms in Japan, China, Italy, South Carolina and elsewhere, while the company itself is concentrating on putting the plane together at its cavernous main facility in Everett, near Seattle.
Yes, that’s something to be proud of. Your core competency becomes snapping six pieces (ok, six very large pieces) together. But then Boeing’s warped understanding of lean, especially the metric of cycle time, comes into play.
Boeing said it will take about seven weeks to assemble the first plane. By the 100th plane, the company expects to lower that to six days and, ultimately, Boeing said a new 787 will roll out of its factory every three days. By comparison, Boeing said it takes an average of 14 weeks for the 777 to move out the factory door because much of the manufacturing is done by the company.
Using that logic I could assemble a Dreamliner in about 10 minutes if everything came complete except for painting the black dot on the tip of the nose.
I wonder what would happen if you added up the assembly time at each supplier, then the transport time, then the final assembly time. I also wonder what would happen if you added up total supply chain cost, including the cost of development and manufacture of that wonderful Dreamlifter fleet, the monster MOATT (mother of all tool towers) that is used to snap everything together, a room full of accountants to monitor foreign currency fluctuations, presumably a building full of supply chain analysts (and probably a team just to monitor and "adjust" the ERP… perhaps even SAP), all the multi-lingual training that had to take place at new foreign suppliers, the severance costs for the thousands of domestic workers laid off when work was outsourced, the value of knowledge transferred to those suppliers, the communication cost and cost of miscommunication with global suppliers instead of the subassembly plant next door, and the eventual lost business as some of those suppliers become competitors. I’ll stop there… you get my drift.
Is that lean? At Boeing it is.
At least Boeing is having a little fun, and painted one of the Dreamlifters to look like a monster Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. If it’s a real photo. But who cares if it’s really real… just like Boeing doesn’t really care about "real lean." If it is, I wonder which final customer ended up paying for the cost, or reduction in delivered value, of that paint job. For that matter I wonder which customers are paying for the Dreamlifters themselves.
I guess all of them. And then ultimately us as the final customer.