Last week we commented in considerable detail on the supply chain woes at Boeing. Mike Bair, former 787 Dreamliner boss, had some rather damning comments on the effect outsourcing had on the program.
For Boeing’s next all-new jet program after the 787, Bair said, it would be better to have a central manufacturing site rather than the global assembly method that is being used for the 787.
The supplier problems ranged from language barriers to snafus that erupted when some contractors themselves outsourced chunks of work. Many of these handpicked suppliers, instead of using their own engineers to do the design work, farmed out this key task to even-smaller companies. Some of those ended up overloading themselves with work from multiple 787 suppliers, Boeing says. The company says it never intended for its suppliers to outsource key tasks such as engineering.
Yep, that sounds like an outsourcing problem, or at least a lack of planning and oversight. Not just in terms of supply, but also in terms of fundamental component design. Now comes another article in Aviation Week that is, well, confusing. Mike Bair’s replacement, Pat Shanahan, has some eyebrow-raising comments.
Shanahan, a production whiz brought in to close out the system when it suffered a six-month first flight and delivery delay, found no fault with the company’s strategy of relying on a global supply chain to provide airframe assemblies and develop major systems for the new jet.
It was only in the details of production that the program fell down and the delay was announced on Oct. 10, he said. For one thing, the 787 management structure was too cluttered to achieve the program’s lean manufacturing goals. For instance, there were 37 "change out" boards that could authorize engineering changes for suppliers. "We have one now," he said. The emphasis is to make sure any changes have gone through proper steps, are accurate and are essential before they are introduced to the manufacturing process because doing so costs time and money.
Shanahan characterized the 787’s problems as a breakdown in the transition from the design and development phase to aircraft production.
Isn’t the devil always in the details? You can’t set "lean manufacturing goals" when lean infrastructure, thought processes, and methods aren’t in place to begin with. And what exactly are these goals? To increase transportation by locating suppliers at the other side of the world instead of in Everett? To increase communication problems by having suppliers in different time zones and operating in different languages? I don’t recall those strategies being in Lean Thinking, but perhaps there’s a new revision coming out. Here’s how Shanahan is righting the ship,
To get it back on track, he’s institute far more direct oversight of both Boeing and its suppliers’ manufacturing processes, including daily meetings that last three to four hours to identify, prioritize and correct issues as needed.
Three to four hour meetings, daily, across multiple time zones and in multiple languages. Yes, I’m sure there’s some reason why that’s easier than simply building the subassemblies next door with the 25,000 experienced workers they used to have. I bet some conference call weary engineers are applying for burger-flipping jobs at McDonalds just to regain some semblance of sanity.
One concept of the Toyota Production System that is missed by many companies is the fact that when a problem is found, everything stops until it is fixed. Any operator can stop a factory production line. Recently Toyota announced it is slowing down and even stopping several new car development programs to ensure all quality issues are worked out before it hits the shop floor. Contrast that to Boeing.
While it works on details needed to get its first 787 into the air and the flight test program completed, Boeing’s suppliers have begun producing ship sets for aircraft No. 7 – the first to be delivered to launch customer All Nippon Airways late next year.
Good luck with that. I’m sure no issues will be found in one of the most complex new machines ever created by man. Rework has a tendency to really suck.