The Causes of Boeing’s Dreamliner Problems

Since Boeing this week announced new delays in production of its new Dreamliner 787 aircraft, much of the related commentary has focused on supply chain issues.

That is appropriate. The problems plaguing Dreamliner are indeed primarily supply chain issues, though there are several different issues that fall under the heading of “supply chain.” These include the basic concept of outsourcing design and production of so many parts to far-flung locations; not verifying that the suppliers have the capacity to produce what is needed within the specified time frame, and then initially not working enough with those suppliers to improve their processes; and poor communication that meant Boeing didn’t see and address the problems early enough.

However, Jon Ostrower, writing in
FlightBlogger, mentions an additional – and interesting – issue. He discusses how Boeing announced this week that it will change the focus and sequence of the production process during the next year.

Boeing must remember that doing work out of sequence was what got them in trouble in the first place.

Basing the program over the next year around flight testing and certification rather than jumping ahead to production ramp up, allows the aircraft, the processes and the management of the supply chain to mature into on a smaller scale that sets Boeing up for long term success with its production ramp up.

If the ramp up had continued as planned, any design modifications that would have come out of flight testing would have had to be applied to already complete aircraft waiting for certification on the flight line in Everett or stored in the desert. This is a tedious and costly process. By allowing flight test to be the core of this program, Boeing will save enormous energy by giving retrofit design change responsibility largely to the partners themselves.

The supply chain issues and the issue of work sequence are all lean issues, touching on matters ranging from the waste of transportation to the proper flow of both work and information.

It is not unusual for companies to run into these kinds of problems. But as I’ve said before, it is disappointing to see this happen to Boeing, which has been on a lean journey for many years and presumably understands these issues better than many other businesses. I sincerely hope they get back on track soon.


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