Today’s NYTimes unknowingly threw into stark relief the consequences of the different paths taken by Boeing and Brazil’s Embraer. Boeing, of course, claims that the outsourcing of the 787 Dreamliner is the epitome of lean manufacturing, even when its many problems point clearly to the folly of off creating a complex, globe-girdling supply chain. (This blog has covered the 787 fiasco many times. Read all about it here.)
The latest news, in what has become a grimly comical production saga, is the possibility of further delays due to fuselage damage:
Boeing, already facing a delay of at least 14 months on its new 787 Dreamliner aircraft, has not yet determined if damage to the fourth of six test planes will have an effect on the full program.
The midbody fuselage section built by Global Aeronautica, a Boeing venture with Alenia North America, a unit of Finmeccanica, was damaged in Charleston, S.C., “by an Alenia employee not following proper work procedures,” a Boeing spokeswoman, Yvonne Leach, said Monday night.
You can’t blame Boeing for all problems, of course. They’re inevitable, especially when building something as complicated as a plane with an entirely new structure. But it’s significant that this particular error occurred with a part that had been outsourced to another company, not at Boeing itself. And although the NYTimes doesn’t use lean terminology, "proper work procedures" sure sounds a lot like standard work to me.
Ironically, Boeing can’t even determine the ramifications of the damage, because the part hadn’t yet been shipped to Everett, where final assembly occurs. So in addition to the waste of rework, there’s the waste of waiting, as they twiddle their thumbs before they can determine what course of action to take next.
The newspaper also ran an article on Brazil’s challenge in finding enough skilled, educated workers — particularly engineers. Embraer, which builds private and commercial jets that seat from six to 122 people, is one of the companies that has created its own specialized engineering program:
In 2001, company directors realized that with only
three Brazilian universities offering courses in aeronautical
engineering there would not be enough graduates available to help them
design, build and sell planes in a rapidly growing market. So
the company created a program that selects the country’s best
engineering graduates and puts them through an 18-month specialization
They already have a base in disciplines like electronics, mechanics
or design. In Embraer’s classrooms, overlooking a shop floor scattered
with fuselages, they learn the skills that will help them become
Júlio Franco, executive vice president
for organizational development and personnel, said the company spends
$45,000 training each student.
The results? Embraer has doubled in size since the start of the decade and
currently has orders in excess of $20 billion. It expects to deliver
nearly 200 aircraft to clients this year.
Okay, $20 billion is small potatoes compared to Boeing. But maybe some of the workers that Boeing laid off in years past, and who couldn’t find work when Boeing farmed out the Dreamliner, could find some work with Embraer.