By September 6, 2007 7 Comments Read More →

Duct Taping the Dreamliner

Flightblogger: Temporary Fasteners Causing Major Problems for 787 Program

Ok, so Boeing isn’t using duct tape in their efforts to cobble together the first Dreamliner plane. But, this blog report I’ve linked to says they were using:

“… over-the-counter parts and prevented assembly teams from being able to document the location of these temporary fasteners on the first 787.”

Why wouldn’t you want to follow the Lean concept of “building it right the first time?” Boeing proclaims to be a “Lean” company, although that has been fiercely debated here and on other blogs. It seems like management might have been pushing people to hit a deadline for rolling out the first plane (a ceremonial event, right?).

Remember what Deming said about mandating quotas and targets. Does this rob people of their joy in work? Does it rob them of their right to feel good about doing quality work?

As a result of supply chain problems, the proper fasteners weren’t available. To this simpleton, it seems like you might 1) delay the plane build and 2) fix the supply chain. But no, there’s too much money at stake to admit a delay or a problem (of course, how much money is involved with the liability of “forgetting” to replace a temporary part with a real one?).

“Flightblogger has learned that many of the temporary fasteners, which were painted red and installed in place of flightworthy parts, were purchased from run-of-the-mill chain hardware stores, including Home Depot and Ace Hardware.”

Look at all of the extra non-value added work this has created as a result:

“As a result, Boeing must now comb through the aircraft to locate, document and replace all of the temporary fasteners to prevent a single non-flightworthy fastener from flying.”

They’re going to be inspecting in quality, eh? Do you trust that they will find every single fastener with 100% certainty?

Quality is also impacted even if all of the temporary fasteners are replaced:

“The second is the challenge in physically replacing the parts. “Composite only like fasteners installed once,” according to one source working directly with the aircraft.

When it came time to install flightworthy fasteners, the removal of the temporary fasteners damaged some of the composite parts of the aircraft causing time-consuming repair.”

So which executives are getting their bonuses because the first plane was, technically speaking, rolled out on time??

Am I being too cynical? Somebody who knows more about airplane manufacturing, please chime in. I’m just a frequent passenger and stuff like this sure worries me. How should we view this from a Lean perspective? Click “comments” to participate.

Update: The first flight is going to be delayed, partly due to the fastener issues. MSNBC story.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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7 Comments on "Duct Taping the Dreamliner"

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  1. Ron Pereira says:

    Sometimes I think we bloggers are a little tough on Boeing… but this one is just unacceptable. I mean come on people. What the heck were they thinking?

    It so crazy I just wonder if we are getting the whole story.

    Lean or not.. Boeing is not run by a bunch of dummies. But I am struggling to find an ounce of smarts in this little adventure.

    All I can say is wow. Almost as loud as my wow when FREAKING APPALACHIAN STATE BEAT MICHIGAN! Now that is worthy of a WOW!

    Go Bucks!

  2. David says:

    If the off-the-shelf fasteners were all in one area of the plane, in addition to being painted red, then they could probably be located and replaced with considerable certainty. But if they’re spread all over, it becomes much more problematic.

    Devil’s advocate: Aren’t there other assembly processes in which temporary fasteners are used to hold things together during assembly and then removed?

  3. Anonymous says:

    David – in this case, this says the composite material was not designed for temp fasteners. Nor did they properly keep track of the temp fasteners! That’s the horrible execution. To Ron, sure the execs aren’t dumb, but was there incompetent execution here? Was their approach really the lowest total cost approach? Sure Toyota delayed the new Prius but I don’t think we would see an apparent debacle like this from Toyota (or GM!!).

  4. Chet Frame says:

    On NPR this afternoon there was an interview with a Boeing executive who said that in all Supply Chains there are large and small vendors and this was a small vendor failure, but that they “are handling it.”

    Point the finger and throw them under the bus. What happened to vendor development?

  5. Neutron Jerk says:

    I’m dumbfounded by this. Did you also catch the part in the article about how their fancy computer system for supplier and product management was SLOWING DOWN their process? Planes used to be built off of paper. Is that another “siren song” of software as you and Kevin Meyer blog about??

    Who the hell is in charge at Boeing? If hospitals like to say “we’re complicated, we’re different,” is that same excuse using by aerospace companies??

  6. Neutron Jerk says:

    Oh and I meant to add — nice how they dumped on the supplier (who Boeing chose). Is this an “industry shortage” (as some articles called it) or a “bad supplier?”

    This article pins blame on the boom-and-bust cycles in the industry, made worse by the dropoff in sales after 9/11.

    The article talks about how Alcoa is responsible for the fasteners, or at least some of them. Not a “small vendor.”

  7. Neutron Jerk says:

    OK, last comment…. sorry. There are other headlines that talk about “blame” being placed in this episode, the supply chain and software problems. I wonder if Boeing is doing a “5 whys” analysis like you do, Mark, or if they’re just blaming and shaming? That would tell you how “lean” they are.

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