We’ve told you before about the Rube Goldberg contraptions Boeing is building to handle their supply chain convolutions. Monster planes created just to move fuselage subassemblies around the world to final assembly operations. Some of this nonsense is not due to ignorance, but instead to political necessity in order to enter competitive global markets. Unfortunately some of that outsourcing has led to knowledge being transferred to countries and companies that will be competitors to Boeing in the future.
A hat tip to Mark of the Lean Blog for this NPR article on Boeing’s Dreamlifter.
The giant cargo plane will fly whole segments of the new Dreamliners to Washington state for assembly: Fuselages from South Carolina and Italy; rudders from China; and entire wings from Japan. Then workers at Boeing will connect the pieces to assemble the new planes.
Nothing all that new, except this time the perspective on the plane comes from Boeing’s workers near Seattle.
Some Seattle residents are not happy to see the Dreamlifter cargo plane take flight. Raymond Conway, who sees the planes flying over his house, calls it "ugly and big — kind of like a bratwurst gone bad on the barbecue." Conway, with the machinists union at Boeing, has another reason to dislike the plane. The company is using the Dreamlifter to outsource a lot of the work on the Dreamliner.
Although business is great for Boeing, with over 500 orders for the new 787 Dreamliner, Conway is correct in that the Dreamlifter is effectively a symbol of the outsourcing of work… and knowledge… to other countries. But as we mentioned before, sometimes political and sales necessity can get in the way of business and manufacturing logic.
Charles Hill, a business professor at the University of Washington, says the machinists’ union is wrong to think the Dreamlifter is just lifting away their jobs. "It’s not that clear-cut," he says. Making the planes entirely in Washington state would ultimately hurt jobs if it translates into fewer orders, he adds. A lot of the orders are coming from the very countries that are contributing parts to the Dreamliner. Analysts say the outsourcing has helped to land those orders.
We’ll see if that is still considered a wise business decision in twenty or thirty years.