Highlighting Boeing’s problems with the 787 outsourcing these days feels a bit like commenting on Britney Spears’ parenting skills, but yesterday’s Aviation Week article brings some of those difficulties into stark relief:
Boeing’s third announced delay in the 787 program puts first flight at least nine months behind schedule and means first delivery is as much as a year off the original mark. The company cannot predict when it will start work on the first delivery aircraft or when final assembly will begin on the five remaining airplanes needed to achieve FAA certification.
This blog has pilloried Boeing in the past for outsourcing so much of the critical manufacturing to secondary suppliers (who, unbeknownst to Boeing, outsourced much of their work to tertiary suppliers). Outsourcing has led to brutally long supply chains that make much of the manufacturing process invisible:
While fastener and small parts shortages remain an issue, the larger hurdle seems to be a disconnect between a rosy, computer-screen view of how the airplane is supposed to flow together and the reality of what happens on factory floors around the world.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s pretty hard to make things visible when the factory is 8000 miles away. And it’s pretty clear that a "computer-screen view" of the process just isn’t the same as genchi genbutsu.
This lack of visibility has also led to a spike in what Boeing calls "travel work" (translation: "waste").
That’s when Boeing’s own assemblers must complete jobs left undone by suppliers. The efficiency of Boeing’s global supply network is premised on major supplier-partners delivering fully prepared, or nearly fully prepared, large assemblies to the final assembly line. This lean-manufacturing approach is supposed to drive out wasted steps in the manufacturing process. So far it hasn’t worked and, in fact, is doing the opposite.
Boeing has been lauded as a leader in lean manufacturing, particularly with regards to the 787. But as Mark over at the LeanBlog has pointed out, flying components around the world isn’t lean at all, even if everything went perfectly. I’m not sure if the growing 787 fiasco an example of LAME (lean as misguidedly executed), or whether this journalist (and others) don’t really understand lean. Because if you just judge by the results, the 787 is beginning to look an awful lot like garden-variety outsourcing, complete with all of its attendant problems.
Either way, as production snafus continue to mount, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Scott Carson acknowledges that they have to find solutions before events spin out of control: “Our credibility is being tested.”