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Dreamliner Gridlock

The Boeing Dreamliner is a beautiful piece of engineering and design, however in the past we've taken Boeing to task for the supply chain convolutions created by it's outsourcing strategy.  Some of that strategy was admittedly necessary for business and political considerations, but when you have to create a monster Dreamlifter just to move parts, then you definitely have a waste of transportation.

Earlier this week the Flightblogger blog told us of a gridlock problem at the Everett final assembly operation.

Put simply, there is a small bottleneck inside of Building 40-26 at the Boeing factory in Everett interfering with deliveries. Two of the four final assembly positions are in use. The first position in the rear of the factory is occupied by the Static Rig (ZY997), the second by Dreamliner One (ZA001).

"Small" bottleneck?  In this case it is analogous to being "slightly" pregnant.  If you can't squeeze by, you can't squeeze by.  Especially when you're talking about widebody aircraft!

With Dreamliner One in its current position, there is no room in the rear of the factory to begin final assembly of the Fatigue Test Rig or Dreamliner Two.  Before the Static Rig can move to Building 40-23, Dreamliner One must be rolled out of the factory. The width of Building 40-26 is only large enough to accommodate one 787 at a time.

So what effect is this having on the global supply chain? 

Delivery of Dreamliner Two structures from South Carolina, Kansas, Japan and Italy were all initially planned for an August 18 timeframe. Boeing hopes that by delaying deliveries to Everett, they can allow the 787 subcontractors to more fully complete the assembly of follow-on aircraft fuselage sections.  The deferment of assemblies will allow for independent work to be done outside of Puget Sound, enabling the Everett-based final assembly and delivery team to continue its focus on Dreamliner One.

Wait a minute... that sounds suspiciously like moving from one-piece to batch flow.  Let's read a bit more.

Hanson added, “To allow traveled work to continue to flow from our partners into final assembly would deter the 787 program from setting up the Lean production system we envision. [The change] is necessary and will enable the program to get the right production system up and running over the long term.”  The first 787 fuselage pieces delivered to Everett were almost entirely bare of systems and represented mainly the structural shell of the aircraft. Extensive "travel work" is being currently performed by the final assembly team in Everett to install wiring, ducting, insulation and systems for the first 787.

Maybe I was wrong... Hanson sounds like he wants to enforce one-piece JIT of completed subs into Everett, and that in the past the subassembly manufacturers weren't fully completing the subassemblies.  Interesting.  Deadlines make planners do funny things.

I won't be too critical as I've lived through several new product introductions, none as complex as a Dreamliner.  But perhaps there could have been some better planning.  We'll stay tuned to see how Boeing's version of lean handles cranking up to volume production.

Update: Lean Insider has a similar take on this story.

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One Response to "Dreamliner Gridlock"

  • Andy Wagner
    27 August 2007 - 11:47 am

    I took the public tour at Boeing Everett last week and got to see Dreamliner One, not so up close and personal. (From an observation platform two or three stories above the factory floor).
    I understand the 787 assembly bay was originally built for the 777 program and used mainly to store inventory for ten years. The lean slant on things is that the 787 saved development cost by using the 777’s wasted floor space for its final assembly!
    There have been a few setbacks in the Dreamliner intro which led to the situation described. One, some of the partners weren’t able to finish their work “stuffing” their subassemblies in time for the 7-8-2007 roll-out date, so segments were shipped, assembled into the airframe for the rollout, and are only now being completed at Everett instead of the partner sites.
    Second, somebody forgot to teach Alcoa about reducing cycle times. A key fastener used for airframe assembly was significantly delayed and much of the 787 had to be built with temporary fasteners. Now, as the permanent fasteners arrive, Dreamliner One has to be reworked.
    Given how important image is in the commercial air travel busienss, and how Boeing’s image has risen while Airbus has fallen in the past few months, preserving that wonderful rollout date, 7-8-2007 for the 787 had to be important.
    I think this reflects the new product learning curve, and their lean learning curve, more than their intended production process.