Waste in the 787 Development Process


    Boeing Scrambles to Repair Problems With New Plane – WSJ.com

    Interesting article in today's WSJ about the ongoing problems in bringing the new 787 “Dreamliner” to market. Sounds like a nightmare of a process.

    Look at the waste highlighted in the article. On the Lean theme of “doing things right the first time”:

    “The first Dreamliner to show up at Boeing's factory was missing tens of thousands of parts, Boeing said.”

    Ok, you'll say, I don't understand the complexities of modern global supply chains. Maybe I don't, but look at the rework involved:

    “When mechanics later opened boxes and crates accompanying the fuselage sections, they found them filled with thousands of brackets, clips, wires and other items that already should have been installed. In some cases, officials say, components came with no paperwork at all, or assembly instructions written in Italian, requiring translation.

    Boeing officials thought they could work through this unexpected twist in a couple of weeks. Instead, they had to put the plane up on jacks and remove its engines and tail to get to tight spots.”

    Is there any concept of “stopping the line” in the development process here? Better to scramble and go out of process with a lot of rework than to take the time to do it right?

    Boeing says:

    Rejecting the idea that Boeing might be better off increasing production more slowly, Mr. Carson says, “I couldn't stand the pain of telling a customer it's going to be worse for them, just to make my life easier.”

    It seems like they aren't subscribing to the idea of “going slow to go fast.” Boeing set up this global supply chain and chose the suppliers. Now, they seem to be dumping on the suppliers, saying how they wouldn't use some of them again. And there might be good reasons for that, but how many were set up to fail through poor selection or poor planning?

    I don't know all of the answers here, of course, but it's a real eye opener to see that much waste in their efforts to bring a new product to market. How would Toyota do this differently?

    Please check out my main blog page at www.leanblog.org

    The RSS feed content you are reading is copyrighted by the author, Mark Graban.

    , , , on the author's copyright.

    What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

    Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

    Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

    Get New Posts Sent To You

    Select list(s):
    Previous articleToyota Worker in Japan Dies After Excessive OT
    Next article"Not Conducive to Suggestions"
    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Good question. I suppose Toyota wouldn’t have had such a long supply chain to start with? I never understood (well, I know the answer – cost savings, supposedly?) the drive to make parts and fly them in, even the fuselages (though the ginormous 747 is pretty cool in and of itself). I hope supply chainers out there take heed. Boeing could have had Airbus on their knees but the much vaunted supply chain has really messed things up it appears.

    2. It is great that Ford was able to hire a guy who helped set such a good system up. I am sure he can help Ford get the same good results. Oh well, I suppose that there was no-one Ford Motor could grow from within….

    3. I expect that the offshoring of components was driven by sales/political reasons at least as much as by manufacturing/cost reasons. There are lots of countries in the world where the government has a strong influence over airlines, and they are more likely to go along with an order for US-made planes if the direct benefit to the local economy can be demonstrated.

    4. Let’s look at this for a second: How many 787’s has Boeing made using this supply chain and assembly process? None yet. I would suggeest that before you chastise them for having an issue with production unit #1, you consider that in the automotive industry the first several units are used to iron out the kinks in new prodution systems. Do you think the very first Camry to traverse a brand new assembly line is without any flaws that aren’t corrected as soon as they are detected? The main difference is that Boeing delivers this first unit to a customer, and Toyota delivers it to the proving grounds.

    5. Interesting thoughts. I think the real focus is if they used localized suppliers, couldn’t they catch the defects in process, rather than after the fact?

      Therein lies the issue with overseas supply chains. By the time defects are found, the entire lot is complete and cannot be redone without adding excessive expense to the product. Include that with the lead time required for shipping + actual internal manufacturing lead time, and your cost of customer satisfaction gets painful.

    6. To anonymous 12/11 9:17

      This is supposed to be reassuring that the #1 787 is going to a customer? Isn’t that all the more reason to go slow and get it right, rather than the cobble it together outside of the planned process?

      How many have they made yet? None. All the more reason to get the process right and to follow it. It sounds like they’re making the process up as they go (or there is no process)… just deadlines to hit at all costs. A box full of uninstalled parts with Italian instructions? You’re kidding me to defend that.

      It’s waste. Pure and simple.

    7. From: Anonymous
      I will give you that it is indeed waste and not ideal, but I would suggest that it is fair to reserve judgement while they proof their process. Like I said, do you think Camry #1 (which would be a pre-production unit) is perfect or even as close to perfection as unit #2 will be? If Boeing has the same exact problem with unit #2 THEN they deserve to be raked over the coals.

      I’m not saying that it’s an excuse that they deliver unit #1 to a customer, but building something that costs 10 million dollars and takes 6 months to assemble is different than something that is built for $10,000 in a matter of hours. Boeing has a lot (more than most) riding on getting their products right the first time.

      Does this case illustrate some challenges for Boeing? Yes. Does it illustrate challenges in building large scale products with multi-national suppliers? Yes. Does it suggest that there is (always) waste in their process? Yes. Does it suggest that Boeing is not on the Lean journey? No.

      My point is that he who is without guilt can cast the first stone. [I don’t think Toyota will be casting any stones at Boeing.] Look at it as an example and hope you (and they) don’t make the same mistake. Pointing and laughing is a waste all the same.

    8. I didn’t say they aren’t on a Lean journey and I’m certainly not laughing. As a customer (passenger) that stuff worries me to no end. Should plane production be in the same category as sausage or lawmaking, that you really don’t want to know how it’s done?

    9. Bryan, keep in mind this is apparently “how it’s always been done” in aviation, we don’t understand how complex this is… we should quit laughing at Boeing and cut them some slack…

      So I guess you won’t be flying anything then?


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.