Boeing Delays 787 Launch Again: Putting Too Much Stock in Its Suppliers or is Lean to Blame?

As I hinted at in a short post from yesterday Boeing announced earlier today that it would miss its delivery schedule for the 787 thanks to additional supplier related delays. My local business rag, Crain's Chicago, did a good job covering the story in a dispatch from this afternoon. According to Crain's, the first plane won't roll off of the assembly line until the end of Q2 (instead of the end of the first quarter). So who is at fault for this? Crain's notes that Boeing "Executives blamed suppliers, who are doing the bulk of the assembly of the new aircraft." The article suggest that Boeing can trace back its supplier performance issues to an inability of its tier one suppliers to deliver finished components and assemblies. As a result, "Boeing had to complete basic assembly work, but its facilities, which are cranking out the company’s other aircraft, aren’t staffed or set up for such extensive work."

Might Boeing's lean initiatives be to blame for this? Citing comments from a Boeing representative on the subject, Crain's shares the following quote today from a Boeing executive: "We underestimated how long it would take to complete other people’s work ... We designed this as a lean operation. We were wrong. If we had been set up more as a traditional (manufacturing operation) it wouldn’t have been a problem ... We're [now] focused on getting supplier factories to do the work they were supposed to be doing, so we can do the work we’re supposed to be doing." Ouch. After a statement like that, if I was one of their suppliers, I would not exactly want to lick off their shop floor (even if it is spotless and there's no inventory lying around).

- Jason Busch

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