07 July 2009

Don't Panic Seattle (Yet!) Boeing and the Second Line

There has been much speculation on the reasons for the Boeing purchase of the 787 Aft fuselage fabrication facility in South Carolina. Before anyone rushes to conclusion - chill out a moment.

It should be remembered that Boeing's grand plan for this Automotive style Just-in Time production process for the 787 was deeply flawed. The 787 is not a Smart Car. (Although at this rate it could end up being a bit of an expensive proposition tying down Boeing as Smart has Mercedes). It is a very complex and highly sophisticated integrated system. The plan to outsource technology and essentially risk to partners all over the world and to essentially out Airbus Airbus has not worked. Boeing will not make the same mistake again.

So Boeing has been quietly bringing back all the services in-house and taking direct control of the major subsystems assembly and indeed the design. With so many problems with the project related to a lack of control - ultimately the fault lies with Boeing. It was too ambitious and too complex. Couple this with a corporate culture that was based on a certain degree of elitism and voila - with the benefit of hindsight it didn't work.

However one must applaud Boeing for recognizing the error of its ways. What one cannot be in admiration of has been how the spin has oozed out of Boeing on the 787 transformation.

Using the threat of the so called second line move to another location outside of Washington State has the politicians all up in a tizzy. Chill people!

For Boeing to move and manage 2 separate production lines given the less than stellar performance in getting just the first plane built does not bode well for the company and its long term stock performance. It also is a bit of a smoke screen to move attention away from Boeing's performance on the project so far.

However the Unions must share a certain level of responsibility in making the project work. So far they have acted responsibly and Boeing should at the very least acknowledge this. Should the Unions start to agitate in the next 24 months - then all they are doing is playing to Boeing's game.

And that's the Professor's opinion. What's yours?

1 comment:

Professor Sabena said...

Here is a string from Jeff:

Good piece, but... The R&D required for a new airliner and the linkage
of tech transfer with major purchases makes this program more logical.
The 777 started that vector. Second the Boeing strategic plan ca. 2000
was more accurate before the global financial mess; now it looks even
better. Third, the massively game changing technology of the 787 means
that models and assumptions are not as reliable; brig at the prime and
all subordinante levels.(The A350 technology doesn't catch up.) The
sidebody wing join is a pluperfect example.
Finally, right to work v. Union is the critical political issue. It is
also one of the critical GM problems. With the Administration's
position well established, the IAM must fight on this ground.

Jeff O'Byrne
Campbell University
Jacksonville NC


Thanks for this.

The boundaries of technology of course get pushed all the time. But my point
was about the culture of Boeing to take on the project in this manner did
not gibe with the technology approach.

I will be less inclined to criticize Airbus at this point as we have seen
really nothing with the A350XWB. However my spies in TLS tell me that the
design work is a generational change up from the A380 which will be the last
major hand built aircraft.

I am not a huge Union supporter. However I do believe that the Unions are
not the bad boys Boeing is painting them out to be. Boeing has fluffed a lot
with the 787. They had a lot of bluster and bravado going into the program
that did not match the reality. How any contractor could have been allowed
to perform as Alenia did is more Boeing's problem than it is that of Alenia
and Vought. A clear lack of foresight and project oversight/management is
evident from the amount of travel work that had to be done. The product
should never have been shipped to Everett. This was a classic QA/QC problem.

I do suggest you post this (or allow me to) as a comment to the original

The Professor

Thanks for the full response. I am a UAW member, and my Dad was a CIO welder. He had entered the work force when the scars of the 1920's were still bleeding. His take, which my experience has reinforced, was that the "Commissar relationship between the shop steward and the foreman" was antithetical to good execution. The issue was addressed in "The Hunt for Red October". In the modern IT-based, composite construction industry the knowledge worker doesn't need two bosses.

I would be proud to have you post my response.

Jeff O'Byrne
Campbell University, Camp Lejeune Branch
2711 Northwoods Drive
Jacksonville NC 28540