You have undoubtedly heard about the latest developments in the Boeing soap opera, most recently the announcement of a delay in the first flight of the 747-8.
In his FlightBlogger blog, Jon Ostrower has done a good job of analyzing what when wrong. He attributes it to “resource constraints driven by the engineering responsibilities diverted by the 787 program.”
He also quotes one engineer as saying that, with the 787 Dreamliner, "workers are adjusting to building a new airplane. A lot of them have been moved around...so their work lacks continuity which leads to production errors."
What I find most interesting is Jon’s descriptions of problems stemming from early decisions about planning (or not planning).
Boeing decided against a full systems integration lab (SIL) for the 747-8 derivative aircraft, due to the influence of the legacy systems on the current design. However, because a SIL was unavailable, says a second 747-8 program engineer, many of the system level issues were encountered on the aircraft, rather than being caught in the lab.
In addition, without a universal computer model derived from Dassault Systemes CATIA v5 software, Boeing has found itself "trying to bridge the gap between 1969 and 2009," says a veteran engineer based at one of Boeing's 747-8 suppliers.
For example, the new wing design and enlarged empennage were designed through CATIA v5, while a portion of of the internal fuselage structure and other parts of the aircraft were built using legacy engineering drawings.
Some parts and their associated engineering drawings, the engineer says, have not changed since the 747-100, which in some instances has led to a loss of tolerance control in some areas.
All of this is very sad news about a company that knows as much about lean as Boeing. While following lean strategies and tactics might not, by itself, have been enough to avoid everything that has happened, certainly a greater attention to value stream mapping and management might have helped.
A lot of what Boeing learned over the years about lean seems to have been unlearned. Maybe when Alan Mulally is done at Ford he can return to Boeing.