A Nightmare of Delays for the Dreamliner

A recent report about work on the new 787 Dreamliner suggests that Boeing, which has long embraced lean strategies, didn’t apply them as well as it could have in planning assembly of the new aircraft.

            Boeing has already received its share of criticism on the Dreamliner, particularly from Kevin Meyer at the Evolving Excellence blog. Kevin has pointed out that key sections of the Dreamliner are manufactured in a variety of far-flung locations, then flown long distances to Everett, Washington, for final assembly. That involves a lot of transportation waste that is clearly not lean.

            Now comes a report from the Flightblogger, written by Jon Ostrower, that Boeing has delayed delivery of major structural parts for the second Dreamliner while employees work feverishly to finish the first one.

            Ostrower writes:


Put simply, there is a small bottleneck inside of Building 40-26 at the Boeing factory in Everett interfering with deliveries. Two of the four final assembly positions are in use. The first position in the rear of the factory is occupied by the Static Rig (ZY997), the second by Dreamliner One (ZA001).

Dreamliner One continues to undergo extremely extensive structural and systems assembly and is currently jacked up off its landing gear surrounded by scaffolding, making the forward movement to make way for the Static Rig difficult until it returns to pavement…


With Dreamliner One in its current position, there is no room in the rear of the factory to begin final assembly of the Fatigue Test Rig or Dreamliner Two. Delivery of Dreamliner Two structures from South Carolina, Kansas, Japan and Italy were all initially planned for an August 18 timeframe.

In addition, Dreamliner One still has yet to have its tail, engines, wing-body fairing, flaps and landing gear doors reinstalled following a comprehensive disassembly which occurred after the July 8th roll-out ceremony.

'Boeing is doing everything they can to finish the job but there are jobs that just cannot be sped up,' said one Boeing employee with knowledge of the program.

Testing on the Static Rig needs to take place three doors down in Building 40-23, which is located between the 747 and 767 final assembly lines. Before the Static Rig can move to Building 40-23, Dreamliner One must be rolled out of the factory. The width of Building 40-26 is only large enough to accommodate one 787 at a time.


            I understand that a commercial aircraft is big, and there are limitations to how much work a building can accommodate, even at the massive Everett complex. But still – did no one see this coming? Was there no kaizen activity in planning construction of the Dreamliner that would have avoided this?

            Meanwhile, according to Ostrower,


Boeing hopes that by delaying deliveries to Everett, they can allow the 787 subcontractors to more fully complete the assembly of follow-on aircraft fuselage sections.


The deferment of assemblies will allow for independent work to be done outside of Puget Sound, enabling the Everett-based final assembly and delivery team to continue its focus on Dreamliner One. Once Dreamliner One has been fully assembled, the follow-on fuselage structures can be joined in less time in hopes of keeping the flight test, certification and delivery on track.


            So in other words, they’re asking suppliers to take on more of the work because they can’t get it done in time themselves? Is this any way to run an aircraft manufacturer?


            There are certainly people within Boeing who understand lean. I hope they put their skills to use to improve the situation so this doesn’t happen again.


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