One of the features of a lean supply chain is the close working relationship between different companies in the chain – a relationship that should be a trusting partnership.
In this kind of relationship, the partners provide each other with honest and timely communication. They understand each others’ capabilities, they set reasonable if ambitious goals, and they help each other where appropriate.
This relationship also requires a manufacturer to oversee its suppliers with utter diligence and constant awareness of what is happening.
According to its chief competitor, Boeing – a company with enough experience in lean initiatives to know better – apparently failed to establish these kinds of relationships with its supply chain partners on the problem-plagued Dreamliner program.
In an exclusive report on his blog, FlightBlogger, Jon Ostrower describes a competitive intelligence report prepared by Airbus on Boeing’s Dreamliner program. (Kudos to Jon for an excellent piece of reporting.)
Ostrower notes that the Airbus report contains copies of slides labeled BOEING PROPRIETARY, “raising questions about the methods and sources the European consortium utilizes to collect its data,” he comments. That is a serious issue, but one I won’t be discussing here.
While there have been many reports of Dreamliner’s problems and delays, the Airbus analysis – and Ostrower’s reporting of it – provide more detail and bring into sharp focus some of the things that went wrong. Ostrower writes:
Airbus believes Boeing's early production issues fundamentally originated in a lack of oversight on both design and assembly integration for the high level of outsourcing.
All of this was further exacerbated, according to Airbus, by "low-wage, trained-on-the-job workers that had no previous aerospace experience" working at supplier partners. Airbus believes "inadequate supplier capability in design," contributed further, citing as an example that "Vought had no engineering department when selected" by Boeing.
Combined with an "insufficient supply of frame, clips brackets and floor beams" the result was a "loss of configuration" control stemming from production records on "deferred work that were found to be incomplete or lost in transfer." In addition, parts that did arrive complete to final assembly were "found to be completed incorrectly" requiring additional rework in
In addition, Airbus cites a quality assurance cycle time that was not in line with the production rate demand, as well as a "lack of qualified non-destructive inspection/quality assurance personnel (NDI/QA) and equipment at Tier-2 and -3 suppliers."
Some bloggers and analysts raised questions from the outset about Boeing’s decision to outsource so much of the work on the Dreamliner, often to companies located far away.
This may be oversimplifying, but it appears that Boeing simply lost control of the Dreamliner production – or perhaps never had it in the first place.
It’s a sad story. We can only hope it teaches lessons – not just to Boeing, but to other companies as well – for the future.