By Kevin Meyer
Over the past three years we've been chronicling Boeing's dive into their outsourcing adventure on the Dreamliner project, and the struggles as the company attempts to recover. I'll avoid the cheesy "I told you so" even though we did predict problems from day one. They continue to learn the lesson, but that's not the subject of today's rant.
Way back in January of 2007 we told you how Boeing's "new manufacturing model" required some interesting advances in technology and process. Well perhaps "advances" is the wrong word, but one particular Rube Goldbergesque machine is pretty impressive: the Dreamlifter. A heavily-modified 747 that does nothing except ferry parts from suppliers around the world to the final assembly operations in Washington. As Scott Strode, VP of 787 development, said back then:
Large Cargo Freighter fleet is the foundation of our lean, global
production system and enables us to meet the unprecedented customer
demand for the 787."
I think Boeing now realizes that real lean is a little bit different. Or maybe they don't, yet.
The Wall Street Journal had another good story on the Boeing Dreamliner last week, once again detailing some of the problems created by that "lean [outsourced], global production system." I don't want to dwell on the problems, but there was one great graphic showing just how outsourced component design and production is.
As they say, parts is parts. Well, ok, maybe not. But the most intriguing section of the article dealt with the Production Integration Center set up to monitor and synchronize global production activities.
Vital to Boeing's plan for keeping the 787 on track as it starts
building the 850 planes on order is a space center-style control room
— officially called the Production Integration Center.
One of the hub's wide glass walls overlooks the Dreamliner final
assembly line, where the plane's body and wings come together. On the
opposite wall, 24 big screens display information including overseas
shipments of parts, urgent technical questions and even earthquakes
around the globe, which could misalign factory equipment and cause
Suppliers as far afield as Australia, Italy, Japan and Russia can
call in through translators and show Boeing engineers in the center
close-up images of their components using high-definition handheld
Robert Noble, Boeing's vice president of supplier management who
runs the 24-hour center, says immediate, multimedia communications have
eliminated the problem of often unclear email exchanges between distant
engineers who work on opposite ends of the clock. "That takes days out
of problem resolution," he says.
Sounds impressive. Real-time human interaction 24/7 to resolve problems quickly and monitor factories. Sort of like a virtual gemba walk.
Sort of. Of course had they not gone down the outsourcing path they could have just walked next door to see how component assembly was going. Rube Goldberg wins another round.
The lesson continues.