By Kevin Meyer
Over three years ago I wrote a short piece comparing the new Airbus A380 to the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner from a batch vs. one piece flow perspective.
The A380 represents a bet-the-house wager on one of the most disliked same-old models of air travel: the hub-and-spoke. The A380 is built around the assumption that airlines will continue to fly smaller planes on shorter routes (spokes) into a few large hubs, then onward to the next hub on giant airplanes.
Basically the A380 was batch – the illusion of efficiency by processing large volumes at one time – vs. the "smaller batch" of the smaller 787. Sure that was a stretch analogy, but so be it.
And the issues with batch processing came home to roost yesterday when one of Qantas' A380s had an engine problem, and the airline decided to ground its fleet of six of those aircraft. Actually "engine problem" is putting it lightly – when a big chunk of it blows off it could be disastrous.
So contemplate that for a minute – six monster planes out of service, each transporting about 440 people on multiple flights per day.
What does that do to flow? How do you recover? How do large process monuments contribute to supply chain risk?
It takes a lot of smaller machines to recover from the loss of one big machine. The loss of one big machine also creates a major disruption to the flow through the rest of the system comprised of smaller machines – the smaller planes connecting to and from the hubs served by the A380s. I wouldn't want to be in Qantas' scheduling center right now. Or its customer service operation.
So think about your own operations. Are you following the conventional wisdom that says larger machines with more capacity are better? Or are you considering risk and less tangible potential cost attributes and looking at flexibility and ability, perhaps by larger numbers of smaller machiens, to recover from problems?