We’ve talked a lot about Boeing over the last few years, from deriding the supply chain convolutions that created the need for Rube Goldberg contraptions like the Dreamlifter to the downsides of transferring knowledge to suppliers that may become competitors. Today’s Wall Street Journal has another article on the problems with Boeing’s new Dreamliner.
But before I begin, I do want to say that I wish Boeing the best. The 787 is truly a remarkable technical achievement that takes aircraft design to a new level. I applaud risk-taking, and complement them on their, well you know, needed to take a risk of that magnitude. I believe it will pay off.
Even with its troubles, the 787 is the hottest-selling new airplane in Boeing’s history. Boeing has won orders for 817 Dreamliners from 53 customers. The plane, which features a combination of lightweight materials and fuel-efficient engines, is expected to be 20% cheaper to fly and a third less costly to maintain than older jets.
And customers are also aware of the leap in technology, and are apparently willing to wait.
Mr. Plueger said customers would rather endure modest delays than have Boeing rush a problematic airplane to market. "This airplane is going to be the basis of every airplane Boeing builds in the future, so it needs to be right," he said.
As someone who rides on airplanes, I support that strategy. I’m not a big fan of problem-solving at 40,000 feet.
The problems are predominantly due to supply chain issues, not fundamental design. However the developmental execution of some design aspects was outsourced and can therefore also considered to be a supply chain problem.
Boeing has made slow progress in overcoming parts shortages and other issues at suppliers’ factories.
To save money, Boeing gave unprecedented control over the development of important parts of the 787 to a wide network of suppliers world-wide. In many cases, those suppliers stumbled, leading to months of parts shortages and technical problems. Boeing has sent armies of its own employees to help suppliers prepare to turn out as many as seven of the widebody jets each month – a daunting task, considering that many suppliers have had trouble turning out pieces at even a slow rate.
Could it have been simpler? Probably. There used to be Boeing factories filled with tens of thousands of experienced workers near the final assembly operation in Everett, but no more. Now those parts and subassemblies need to be ferried around the world, and every communication needs to cross time zones and language barriers.
The devil is in the supply chain, especially when you create an incredibly convoluted chain. So what do you do when parts are delayed to the point that the most expensive development program in the company’s history gets delayed at least twice? Why, you award the head supply chain dude "Supply Chain Manager of the Year."
Maybe next we’ll hear of Paris Hilton winning an Oscar.