Boeing's 787 is Delayed Again Thanks to Suppliers — But This Time for Good Reason

Over on Spend Matters affiliate MetalMiner site, my wife and blogging partner in crime Lisa Reisman took out her Six Sigma blackbelt last week and analyzed the reasons behind Boeing's recent 787 delay. This time around, the problem traces back to supplier-related issues like before. However, there are some big differences this time around (e.g., the test flight and production hold-up is not a result of a supplier delay). Rather, the challenge this time is due to a problem that Boeing uncovered during its testing procedures where components from two suppliers come together. Lisa writes that "Boeing identified 'stress' in the side body structure where the side body joins the wing ... totaling 18 locations on either side of the plane. The areas are small, one to two square inches, but involve an integrated design solution as the wings come from Mitsubishi and the sides of the body from Fuji."

Lisa goes into much greater detail in her analysis about how Boeing is applying the supply chain management concepts of "re-anchoring the model" and "staying in process" to address the stress-related concerns. She also believes we should cut Boeing some slack regarding rooting out the cause(s) of the issues as well as creating a remedy. After all, "the company pioneered the concept of cross-functional teams working to design and build key systems and components as part of the 777 program ... And again with the 787, we have a new production/design process in the form of external supplier collaboration." In other words, Boeing is blazing new trails in the sky with the 787 through relying on suppliers to not only come up with integrated components working with Boeing but with Boeing's other suppliers as well.

Personally, I'm happy Boeing is taking time to get things right with the 787 and its key tier one suppliers working on the program. After the horrible Air France tragedy earlier in the month, I'd rather be safe than sorry when it comes to rushing a plane into production. But perhaps even more important, Boeing's methodical process in bringing the 787 to market -- based largely on Japanese R&D and production approaches -- which lets team members raise potential red flags early can serve as a lesson for all of us in the merits of addressing potential issues as soon as they become apparent (even in a simulated environment working with multiple sets of suppliers).

For an alternative take on what went wrong with Boeing's outsourcing model, I would suggest reading this guest contribution from last Friday from a former industry insider familiar with A&D quality and supplier management processes.

Jason Busch

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