Jonathan Katz of Industry Week just wrote an article on the problems at Boeing, specifically how they got "derailed from the lean track." As he points out, Boeing did have some early success with lean manufacturing.
The [Dreamliner] delays raise questions about an otherwise
promising lean journey that helped reduce production time on the 737
aircraft line from 23 days to 11. Instead of making sweeping changes, the
company introduced lean to its small fabrication and subassembly areas
first before realigning final assembly in 2000. In addition to reduced
production time, the change cut work-in-process inventory from 30 to
approximately 10 planes on the plant floor at any given time and cut
customer introduction hours by 51%.
He then goes on to quote two of your favorite lean bloggers. Mark over at the Lean Blog got in a quote that spoke to the issue and demonstrated intelligence.
"It seems like they aren’t subscribing to the idea of ‘going slow to go fast,’" observes Mark Graban, founder of LeanBlog.
"Boeing set up this global supply chain and chose the suppliers. Now,
they seem to be dumping on the suppliers, saying how they wouldn’t use
some of them again. There might be good reasons for that, but how many
[suppliers] were set up to fail through poor selection or poor
Yours truly wasn’t so lucky…
"At least Boeing is having a little fun, and
painted one of the Dreamlifters to look like a monster Oscar Meyer
Weinermobile, if it is a real photo," writes Kevin Meyer in his lean blog Evolving Excellence in reference to a Boeing jet that transports supplier components. "But who cares if it’s really real… just like Boeing doesn’t really care about ‘real lean.’"
Yes, apparently my major contribution to the "is Boeing lean" debate is a dubious photo of a Dreamlifter Weinermobile. He even misspelled "Oscar Mayer"… reviving memories of childhood torment. I’ll get over it.
Katz then goes on to describe some of the lean history at Boeing, in particular the problems with getting employee buy-in. I can understand how that could be a problem when the company lays off tens of thousands of people and moves production overseas. And finally near the end he tackles the supply chain, which is generally the big bone we pick with the company. I did get a slightly more favorable mention at that point.
By transferring so much of the major component design, Boeing has become in essence a project management company rather than a lean manufacturing operation, says Meyer, co-author of the book Evolving Excellence and founder of online lean resource center Superfactory. "The bottom line is managing that complex of a supply chain has led to a lot of Boeing’s current problems on the 787," he contends.
Actually, it’s the creation of that complex supply chain that led to the problems in the first place. The 737 benefited from suppliers practically next door to the final assembly operations in Washington, many of which were owned by Boeing itself. Response time, communication, and supply chains were short. Unfortunately tens of thousands of those knowledge workers have now been laid off, with major Dreamliner assemblies being designed and built around the world.
That’s the problem. And that’s not lean.