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Production of Boeing 787 Dreamliner Delayed Again 334

Hugh Pickens writes "Boeing has discovered microscopic wrinkles in the skin of the 787's fuselage and has ordered Italian supplier Alenia Aeronautica to halt production of fuselage sections at a factory in Italy. 'In two areas on the fuselage, the structure doesn't have the long-term strength that we want,' says Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter. To repair the wrinkles, additional layers of carbon composite material are being added to a 787 at the South Carolina factory and twenty-two other planes must also be patched. Production of the 787 has been fraught with problems with ill-fitting parts, casting doubt on Boeing's strategy of relying on overseas suppliers to build big sections of the aircraft before assembling them at its facilities near Seattle. The 787, built for fuel efficiency from lightweight carbon composite parts, is a priority for Boeing as it struggles with dwindling orders amid the global recession. Customers had been expecting the first of the new jets in the first quarter of 2010 — nearly two years earlier than they will be delivered. The delays have cost Boeing credibility and billions of dollars in anticipated expenses and penalties. Orders for 72 planes have been canceled already this year, although Boeing still has confirmed orders for over 800 aircraft."
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Production of Boeing 787 Dreamliner Delayed Again

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:08PM (#29086873)

    where I point out that maybe if they'd kept those jobs in the United States instead of tying to save a few pennies or getting a contract or two from a state airline that the parts might actually work right the first time.

    Yes, companies that send jobs overseas, I'm looking at you.

    • by Jason Pollock ( 45537 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:19PM (#29086929) Homepage

      Why would it have been guaranteed to "work right the first time?"

      The article indicates that it's a design fault. Either in the design of the manufacturing process, or earlier.

      Boeing is designing a permanent fix to the wrinkle problem so future versions of the plane won't have to be modified. The existing fuselage wrinkles, she said, will not compromise the flight safety of the 787s.

      That tells me it's Boeing's fault that the problem exists, not the Italian manufacturers.

      • by florescent_beige ( 608235 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:10PM (#29087221) Journal

        It's a manufacturing problem related to the connection between the fuselage stringers and skin. Alenia and Boeing have known about it for a while. Alenia can't make the stringers with a close enough tolerance on the landing (the "bottom" that bonds to the skin) to get a proper cure of the skin and Boeing refuses to relax the tolerances. Until they can agree on a manufacturing fix they have stopped work.

        The fix for the parts already made is to put an exterior patch. That's usually a last resort but not unheard of. Customers don't like to get new airplanes with visible patches on them.

        Alenia has scrapped two barrels and sectioned them to get a good look at the internals of the problem. The manufacturing fix will be pretty straightforward, probably a few extra plies in the skin to make up for some reduced thickness in the stringer landing.

        Alenia likely did a facir (first article conformity inspection report) on the first barrel which is where they cut the first barrel up and look at sections to find wrinkles and other things. The problem is, they changed the mfg process on the stringers after the facir. Not unusual, but they blew it when they asserted that the new method would be equivalent to the original that passed the facir.

        • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:51PM (#29087459) Journal

          I worked for Northrop many decades ago when the Boeing 747 was first being built. Northrop made these body sections for Boeing. These were in the days of actual blueprints on paper, although they had advanced to microfilm aperture cards to print from by that point ;)

          The skins had little angled stringers attached to the inside surface, painted with some horrible green mixture. The draftsman who drew them used the wrong width pen, and these stringers turned out to be 1/2mm shorter than they needed to be. Not a real problem you'd think, but there were thousand of them running lengthwise across the skin.

          By the time the stringer had reached the cargo door (65BO1859 - god how some things stick in your head) they were about half a meter short. This had a major structural impact on the airframe, so they had to go (literally) back to the drawing board to solve the problem.

          Subtle business, building your average jumbo jetliner.

          • by florescent_beige ( 608235 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @09:55PM (#29087771) Journal

            Since we're trading war stories...

            Once I was hired at a sub to do the structural analysis on an empennage. The finite element model was supplied by the OEM and just by chance I did a sanity check by importing the catia geometry into patran and overlaid it on the mesh. Turns out the mesh for the whole horizontal stabilizer was 2" too high.

            I have a good one from testing too. The same OEM had this jet going through cert testing and one of the tests is a particularly nasty scenario where an entire fuselage is pressurized then this big dagger thing punches a big slit in it about 40" long. The hope is that the big gash doesn't propagate and cause the fuselage to, you know, explode. This is supposed to simulate an engine explosion. Sadly the fuse went boom. That cost a bit to fix.

            Speaking of things that are the wrong length, that happened to the A380 wiring. Things like that aren't supposed to happen with catia and all that. I heard that various people blamed it on different contractors using different versions of catia which doesn't make much sense. Probably just a basic mistake some designer made that never got caught.

      • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:15PM (#29087251) Journal
        Actually, in the normal Boeing process, these items are assembled regularly in various stages and made certain to fit (iterative process). The problem is that this is the first time that they have outsourced like this and were not capable of making design adjustments. This was a waterfall process. And the results are just like any waterfall process
      • by badasscat ( 563442 ) <> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @11:25PM (#29088195)

        That tells me it's Boeing's fault that the problem exists, not the Italian manufacturers.

        No, it's Alenia's.

        There are two issues here. The first is that the wing body join failed earlier than it was supposed to - that's a design fault on Boeing's part. The second is that starting with the seventh frame, the fuselage skin was wrinkled. That's a production fault.

        Alenia has since admitted that they changed production processes after the seventh frame, and something having to do with that change caused the faults. This issue has already been resolved. The information in this article is apparently a bit old, although the issues it brings up are still at least somewhat valid... though there is honestly no practical way of building an airliner these days without using offshore suppliers. But it highlights the dangers of lowest-bidder contracts.

    • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:21PM (#29086935)

      It's a little more than just outsourcing - Boeing had cut their internal engineering resources to the point where they didn't have the capacity to do all of design work in house. Since you don't just go out and hire a few thousand airframe structural engineers the only option left was to outsource - and now it turns out the partners they had vastly overstated their capabilities. After all, any engineer is the same as any other, right?

      My brother is an engineer at Boeing... he claims that this is the most screwed up engineering project in terms of cost in human history. I think he has a point.

      • by Timmmm ( 636430 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:09PM (#29087213)

        Furthermore this is the first carbon composite airliner ever made. It's obviously going to have more problems than another aluminium plane. For example one of the problems with composites is that it is really easy to get subsurface delaminations that are very hard to detect. These problems are going to take time to solve.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anenome ( 1250374 )

          No, I agree with you. It's really easy to say that the technology is not read yet and shouldn't be used, ignoring the fact that it's projects like this that typically push tech forward.

          The future of jetliners is composites.

          Whether the project succeeds or not only matters in the short-term. The tech and experience produced even by a failed 787 project will pave the way for the thousands of new projects the future will surely produce, to everyone's benefit.

      • by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:58PM (#29087493)

        My brother is an engineer at Boeing... he claims that this is the most screwed up engineering project in terms of cost in human history. I think he has a point.

        Oh, I can't imagine it's beat the Big Dig just yet, though it may be on its way. Looks like the relative costs of the two programs are similar...but the Big Dig was a 10-fold cost overrun (from about $2B to $20B.

        In more similar endeavors, there's always the Osprey, also coming in at about $20B. Funny, Boeing was one of the co-developers on that clusterfudge too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by AmigaMMC ( 1103025 )
        In all fairness Alenia (owner of Aermacchi) is one of the leading aeronautical manufacturers in the world having designed, built and maintained over 12,000 airplanes.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:32PM (#29087013)

      Not all of the outsourcing is done to save pennies (although many of them undoubtedly are).

      For example, many of the composite parts are produced in Japan for two reasons: 1) Japan has some of the best composite material manufacturers in the world, and 2) lucrative subcontracting business from Boeing distracts the Japanese from trying to produce a 787 competitor of their own. The latter is especially important, not just because the last thing Boeing needs is another credible competitor in the mid-to-large airliner market; it is also because a stronger Japanese aviation industry may also be tempted to design jet fighters on its own, which would destroy the single biggest export market for US military aircraft in the world.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        Also good for Boeing in Japan, China and Italy ect.
        When regional and national carriers need to upgrade, they will 'think' of local jobs.
    • by jcr ( 53032 ) < .ta. .rcj.> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:34PM (#29087023) Journal

      Bigoted much?

      There's no shortage of slipshod work done in the USA, or top-quality work done in foreign countries.


    • by multisync ( 218450 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:12PM (#29087231) Journal

      where I point out that maybe if they'd kept those jobs in the United States instead of tying to save a few pennies or getting a contract or two from a state airline that the parts might actually work right the first time.

      Who knows, but you don't have to be Alanis Morissette to see the irony of an Italian plant making fuselages for Boeing, and a Seattle coffee company wanting to sell me something called a "grandee latte."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:09PM (#29086877)

    "Boeing has discovered found microscopic wrinkles" ? Huh?

  • by Titoxd ( 1116095 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:11PM (#29086893) Homepage
    ... an EADS executive is laughing with glee...
    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:19PM (#29086919) Homepage
      No, they're still trying to breath in and out very slowly and deliberately hoping that the A380 will fly financially []. With the current economic climate, it will be a awhile before they're laughing again.
      • by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @09:26PM (#29087625)

        No, they're still trying to breath in and out very slowly and deliberately hoping that the A380 will fly financially. With the current economic climate, it will be a awhile before they're laughing again.

        I'm sure the corporate weasels at Airbus will manage a few smug smiles at the expense of the corporate weasels at Boeing after all the detailed coverage of A380 delays by aviation/business journalists, bloggers and other "industry observers" from the other side of the pond. In the long run the A380 has every chance of being a success just like the 747 was. The 380 has operating costs that are more or less the same as a 747 but with the capability to carry a substantially greater number of passengers with a quite low per-passenger cost. There are plans now to build all-coach A380s which are projected to cut air fairs by up to 30% on some routes. Even if they manage to realize even only a third of that price cut the A380 might actually end up benefitting from the current economic climate on inter-hub hauls. It won't be the worlds most comfortable ride but for a 10% price cut I'll put up with being stuck in an 840 seat giant sardine can for a few hours.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by petermgreen ( 876956 )

        The article you linked says the A380 is "sold out until 2014", seems like a pretty good position to be in during a recession to me.

    • by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:19PM (#29086925)

      I can imagine that - it is a major loss of face at Boeing, especially after they laughed so hard at Airbus about those A380 delays.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I don't know anything about this deal, but my first thought was something like "a subcontractor for Boeing in Italy? WTF? Must be some political thing to get business, not an engineering thing."

        E.g. give European customers reasons to buy Boeing vs Airbus...

        Lots of products get really screwed up for political or marketing reasons.

        Unfortunately, if it weren't for that seamier side of things, a lot of cool tech gadgets wouldn't get made at all.

        • by JanneM ( 7445 )

          And parts made in Japan to get governmental support to have JAL and ANA buy the plane. Airbus is doing similar things, and both Boeing and Airbus are setting up assembly plants in China to be able to sell more planes there.

          You know those "Buy American/Buy Japanese/Buy Whatever" slogans and campaigns that protectionists are bandying about? Those are the reason. If you can sell your big-ticket product in a market only if you actually make at least part of it there, then make it there is what you have to do.


  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:11PM (#29086895) Homepage
    Sounds like the start up of the 747. Boeing nearly bankrupted the company by pushing the envelope in plane design and manufacturing when many people didn't think the business model would work out. They're at the same point again for the same reasons, so we will see if they can do it again.

    But Boeing is lots more than the Commercial Airplane group; I believe they are the number one or two US defense contractor so even if the 787 takes a long time to break even, the company will still survive.

    If, however, the plane actually flops because of the choices they made (heavy use of composites PLUS heavy outsourcing), then Commercial Airplane may lose enough money to trash the company.

    Remember folks, this is why you pay your high end executives lots of money....
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by goombah99 ( 560566 )

      Seems like a plane built overseas is not really going to as attractive to the defense folks.

      One can't resist a bit of glee at their troubles. The company ditched it's Seattle roots, moved to Chicago, then sought to layoff its US workers by outsourcing it's manufacturing capability. So it's satisfying to see this strategy ruin cause pain and not be such a good deal.

      On the other hand given the global downturn it's not such a bad time to behind schedule. Airbus is going to eat it on the over sized beast the

    • by TrippTDF ( 513419 ) <> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:25PM (#29086975)
      I've been doing a lot of thinking about management and it's layers lately. It seems to me that if large companies looked at their management structure and pared it down to what it looked like years ago when they had their first successes that got them where they are, they could make projects like the Dreamliner actually work sooner.

      Take this situation where some overpaid executives decided that it would be a good business decision to outsource the work to Italy. The flaws in the design might have happened if made in the US, but your communication lines would have been shorter (from worker to end decision maker), and problems would be identified and stamped out quicker. I'd like to see data on the number of people between top brass and actual laborers today and twenty years ago for the top 100 companies in the US, and see the difference. Something tells me the more management you have, the crappier your product.
      • by OrangeCatholic ( 1495411 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @09:49PM (#29087739)
        Yeah, but when you have more managers, more managers make more money.

        It's a pyramid scheme, essentially. You move up the corporate ladder, and then hire a bunch of peons. As long as there are people below you, you don't have to work hard. The dollar difference between what a peon creates for the market, and his meager salary, is what pays yours.

        You think I'm kidding, but it's true. Some people just want theirs. You're thinking about efficiency. That makes you an engineer, and that's how you end up being on the bottom ~:/
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DerekLyons ( 302214 )

      Sounds like the start up of the 747. Boeing nearly bankrupted the company by pushing the envelope in plane design and manufacturing when many people didn't think the business model would work out. They're at the same point again for the same reasons, so we will see if they can do it again.

      Um, no. The 747's had huge issues because of Pratt and Whitney's inability to deliver the engine they promised. There were no major issues with the aircraft itself.

    • Defense contractor (Score:3, Insightful)

      by plopez ( 54068 )

      Yes they are a defense contractor. There's the rub isn't it? If they get into serious trouble it may be decided they are "too large to fail" and the government, in other words the taxpayer, will generously bail them out. So the MBAs can give themselves bonuses for screwing up projects.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I think you are right. Use of composites is not exactly new but it is very new at the scale they are using it on the 787. I worry a bit about it because we used composites on a program I was on and one thing we experienced is that internal damage is hard to detect.

      I am hoping that this is more under control now with new technologies and also I am hoping they are using very conservative design parameters. I remember scrapping some very large pieces because someone went over the edge and attacked them

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 )

      Remember folks, this is why you pay your high end executives lots of money....

      They pay themselves lots of money. Presumably because they fear that no-one will employ them again after making mistakes.

  • What a relief... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:22PM (#29086941)
    Now Boeing can finally pin the blame for all the delays on another company again.
  • A few words... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:22PM (#29086945)

    All this is because of American companies' belief in complexity. We should borrow a leaf from the Russians who I believe, are champions of simplicity which actually delivers.

  • by sohp ( 22984 ) <{snewton} {at} {}> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:22PM (#29086951) Homepage

    Another victory for outsourcing your core competency.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by homer_s ( 799572 )
      Doesn't Airbus outsource as well?
      If I'm not mistaken, they manufacture/assemble in over 5 different countries.

      So, let's hear it for mindless peddling of stupid ideas that are based on arbitrary political boundaries.
    • by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @09:03PM (#29087519)

      Boeing's core compentency is composite airframes?! From an engineering perspective, sub-contracting out parts of the plane was the only chance they had of making it possible. I've been in some of the big autoclaves used for major parts, and it is a bit simplistic to think that Boeing could have done all the manufacturing in-house.

      But, their supposed core competency, integration, seems to be more lacking.

      Ultimately, when these things first crash it is going to be an interesting case of finger pointing.

  • by gizmo_mathboy ( 43426 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:24PM (#29086957)

    This [] Youtube video was sent to me from a friend that works at Boeing (not in the commercial division). About sums things up.

  • The world is going to need more fuel-efficient planes badly. Let's all hope Boeing pulls this off, or most of us will be fuel-priced out of the option of flying.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Alien Being ( 18488 )

      The world needs to stop flying all over the globe anyway. When air travel is unavoidable fuel economy isn't the most important thing. Splatfree miles is what counts. Boeing is doing fine.

  • For something that is meant to go up in the clouds each time looks more like vaporware.
  • Not so lightweight? (Score:5, Informative)

    by RobVB ( 1566105 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:34PM (#29087021)
    From the article:

    Boeing is designing a permanent fix to the wrinkle problem so future versions of the plane won't have to be modified. The existing fuselage wrinkles, she said, will not compromise the flight safety of the 787s.

    The existing fuselage wrinkles might not compromise the flight safety of the 787s, but they will weigh and cost a lot more than planned because of the extra layers of carbon composite material. The added weight will reduce fuel efficiency for the entire lifetime of the airplane, which further increases the cost of use of these planes for the airlines that will be buying them. As for the permanent fix:

    Boeing said tests had shown it needed to reinforce areas where the plane's wings join the fuselage.

    You can bet this means all future 787s will weigh more than Boeing told their investors they would, which means some companies who slightly prefered 787s over an alternative by, say, Airbus, might also cancel their orders and buy from the competition instead.

    • by greyhueofdoubt ( 1159527 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @10:08PM (#29087829) Homepage Journal

      No, you can bet that the competitors will win because repairing a graphite defect/delamination/crack/ requires a $100,000 hot bonder + materials as opposed to $0.10 worth of aluminum, $0.01 worth of rivets, and $80.00 worth of rivet gun.

      Composites are really neat, and I love working on them, but mfg.+maint. of composite > mfg.+maint. of aluminum aircraft.

      Just speaking from the air force side of things- going from Al to Carbon requires a manning increase in the structures shop of at least 3X. Graphite is a totally new game that most structures guys are simply not prepared to cope with. You need to take that into account when you're comparing budgets.


    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by badasscat ( 563442 )

      The existing fuselage wrinkles might not compromise the flight safety of the 787s, but they will weigh and cost a lot more than planned because of the extra layers of carbon composite material. The added weight will reduce fuel efficiency for the entire lifetime of the airplane, which further increases the cost of use of these planes for the airlines that will be buying them.

      And this kind of thing happens all the time with new airplanes, and the first few airplanes are then just given at a slight discount.

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:37PM (#29087031) Journal
    They did this for several reasons. The first was to break the unions. The second, and more important, was to help sales. Sadly, America has some of the best knowledge of composites and the RIGHT place for this was here, not elsewhere. At this time, all of the issues that Boeing has is with offshored items (Production for china has been a QUIET NIGHTMARE for Boeing; Many of the parts are of VERY low quality). In fairness, my Wife and a number of friends work for Boeing, so I do get to see info that is not in the main-stream press.
    • by EEPROMS ( 889169 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:54PM (#29087475)
      Many of the parts are of VERY low quality

      A yes the old scape goat, blame the Chinese because we gave the contract to the cheapest Chinese manufacturer. The A380 also gets many of it parts made in China and they dont have these so called issues mainly because the Chinese will build a quality product if you insist on it, yes it costs more but then you get what you pay for. I work for a company that gets all it's products made in China and "we have no quality issues" because we have defined what we need and what we expect and paid the extra money to get it. It is almost as if American companies forgot the term "quality control" and "ISO standards" when it came to dealing with the Chinese because the Chinese do know about both these factors.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 16, 2009 @09:09PM (#29087547)
        The A380 also gets many of it parts made in China and they dont have these so called issues mainly because the Chinese will build a quality product if you insist on it, yes it costs more but then you get what you pay for. THe 380 gets VERY few parts outside of Europe. And yes, there is very little of Chinese made products in it. And as to quality from China, it is sketchy. Some are there, others are not.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Paying the factory makes zero difference when the managers (or even line workers) skimp on materials for their own profit. We had one case where the guy was saving expensive solder one drop at a time to make a tiny extra bit of money. All the guanxi with the GM won't ever help then.
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:44PM (#29087063)

    It's wierd - I used to think IT projects were the only projects that were impossible to accurately estimate. A lot of PMs I run into at work seem to think a software project is the same as a construction project, but I think they're totally different. There is little change in the time it takes to pour a certain amount of concrete, run standard electrical for a commercial building, or other construction/product build tasks. In software-land, since everything's so fluid, it's anyone's guess how much time it'll take to fix some crazy bug, install hardware, debug a hardware or software installation, or write documentation. And even when a construction project over-runs its time, you pretty much know exactly how far off you are and how long until you're on track again.

    Now this 787 project comes out and blows my assumptions away! Apparently you CAN overrun a construction or build project's time and budget just as easily as IT projects.

    From what I've been reading, the fact that Boeing basically outsourced everything but final assembly of the plane to different contractors has come back to bite them. One of my IT specialties is integration work -- and I've worked on a lot of contracted software products that totally don't work when you get their individual parts back and mash them together.

    Part of me really wants to gloat and say, "Ha ha, you listened to a bunch of retarded MBA consultants who convinced you that lean production and lowest-bidder subcontracting was the way to go!". BUT, I really can't. Boeing's in a lot of trouble if they can't pull off a major integration/rework effort right away. Airplanes are one of the last things the US actually makes and exports from a manufacturing perspective, so it's important that they just drop everything and figure out what's wrong. Airbus will be more than happy to sell A340s, A350s and A380s to all the waiting airlines.

    But deep down, I still think those MBAs should have thought a little bit about how many thousands of parts and systems a typical plane has...

    • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:55PM (#29087125) Journal

      Now this 787 project comes out and blows my assumptions away! Apparently you CAN overrun a construction or build project's time and budget just as easily as IT projects.

      The 787 is new. Most of the time if you're doing a construction project, you're doing something basically the same or very similar to something you've done before, so you can estimate it well. When this doesn't hold, construction projects end up estimated just as poorly as IT projects. IT projects are always something new; if what you wanted already existed, you'd probably just buy it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jrumney ( 197329 )
      It would be a foolish airline that looked at the B787 delays and thought they could avoid the problem by ordering A350s instead. It uses the same carbon fibre construction, and a quick look at the A380 timeline will tell you that Airbus is no more likely to make their 2013 target date than Boeing was to make 2010.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Not quite. The A350 is basically on the same technological level as the A380, which is something that Airbus seem to have finally mastered quite well. The A350 is just slightly smaller, and has some aerodynamic gizmos that the A380 doesn't have, or doesn't need.

        If the A350 is late, then because of other screw-ups on the part of Airbus, but the technology (which seems to have been the major stumbling block with both the A380 and the 787) should be there already.


    • by icebrain ( 944107 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @10:08PM (#29087831)

      My day job is helping develop a new aircraft. It gives me some insight into what might be happening over there at Boeing. My take on the whole matter:

      Boeing's first screwup was an entirely ridiculously aggressive schedule, one far more challenging than any of their previous projects. You'd think they would learn better, but apparently the latest batch of management monkeys figured they could make the impossible happen simply by declaring that it would, and expected the force of their words to be sufficient. (Lesson: things always take longer than you think they will. Use your worst-case estimate, not your best-case one)

      Second, the outsourcing. Well, the outsourcing itself was not the problem, but rather it was the way they handled it. They farmed out major assemblies to far-flung companies, and then (here's the important part) didn't supervise them well enough. They simply took everyone's word that the engineering was sound and that they were on schedule with their builds. Everyone was actually late, but nobody wanted to admit it because nobody else was saying they were late. Eventually, they realized what was going on, but not after it was too late to fix it without causing too much of a delay. Boeing also failed to ensure that the fastener manufacturers would have their products ready in time... which would bite them in the ass later. (Lesson: Watch your subcontractors very, very carefully. Supervise their work, check their processes, and double-check their engineering)

      Third, marketing. More specifically, the marketing types drove the program management and engineering decisions. Marketing wanted to shoot for a July 8 rollout to get an auspicious date... and thus commanded it to happen. Well, the only problem was that the airplane wasn't ready yet. Not only was it not assembled, but none of the internal systems were installed (they were supposed to be put in by the subcontractors, but everyone was late...). So what did they do? They slapped the empty sections together--with fasteners from Home Depot [] as a temporary fix, and painted it. That's right, they used ordinary hardware-store bolts in place of flightworthy fasteners because some marketing dweeb wanted to show "visual progress", and they didn't have the time to do it right. And not only did they use non-flightworthy parts, but they lost track of where they put them, meaning they had to go back and check all of the fasteners to make sure the temporary ones were removed. Boeing lost months because they had to go back and redo stuff that wasn't per spec. (Lesson: "visual progress" isn't. Half-assedly slapping something together to make it look like you've accomplished something just costs you more time, effort, and money down the road. Do it right the first time.*)

      I don't know enough about the latest delays (structural issues) to be able to comment on them. But the earlier stuff I see parallels to in all kinds of places, even at work.

      *Dear God that pisses me off to no end... I can't tell you how many times I've been told just to "hurry up and do it" because my manager wished to show "visual progress", only to have to go back and do it again, correctly. Tape measures and paper flat patterns simply can't be used to install mount points with tolerances in the thousandths... either get the proper tooling support to do it right, or fit the entire thing together before installation. "Visual progress" is right up there with "think of the children" in the "worst phrases of the English language" category...

  • I've been following the whole Dreamliner story since the beginning and this is really disappointing. This is yet another bump in their delivery of what amounts to an awesome and very ambitious aircraft. The Dreamliner really started making a splash when Boeing was down on their luck. It was such a big splash and so ambitious that customers forced Airbus to rethink their much more modest proposal. I was surprised when I saw how soon Boeing was promising to deliver them. No one has ever built an airliner

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:55PM (#29087131)

    I live in the Pacific Northwest, where Boeing used to do most everything. There is a strong belief up here - maybe because we feel screwed by Boeing - that Boeing moved production all over the place basically to bust one of the few strong unions we've had up here in Washington. I'm not a big union guy; but having watched Boeing's management and their treatment of their workers over the last 20 years... that's one place where I think a union is called for. It wasn't that long ago they laid off thousands of workers because of a downturn, yet found it in their hears to give the top-tier management very large (20% or so, IIRC) pay raises at the same time.

    I've had friends who worked for Boeing (engineers, mostly) over the past couple of decades. Most of them have gotten out. When they started, there was a lot of pride amongst the workers at the company. That all went away, at least in the groups my friends worked in. And I do believe that companies whose employees are proud of their work do a better job than those who've stopped caring because they feel upper management has stopped caring about the product.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ErichTheRed ( 39327 )

      Agreed. I know practically everyone in the IT industry is agianst unions. In some cases that's for good reason. However, I really think that most IT people think they're not "standard blue-collar workers" because they sit in front of a computer instead of a manufacturing line.

      This, plus the belief that nothing bad is ever going to happen to them, is probably the biggest reason for anti-union sentiment. In my opinion, however, this kind of thinking is dangerous. There are some really crappy workplaces out th

      • I agree with you to some extent about the need for unions. However, far too often unions are the reason companies are driven to outsource. It's one thing to protect employees and another altogether to start expecting excessively high salaries and all kinds of benefits with no compromises. And some of the tactics union leaders take are very questionable. Many of these organizations are not all that different than big corporate entities. The difference being that while a corporation can provide people with jo

  • inaccurate (Score:5, Informative)

    by YesIAmAScript ( 886271 ) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @07:56PM (#29087135)

    The problems are with barrels that aren't even close to production yet. Boeing (in as much as you can believe them anymore) says that this will not delay the production of the 787 (to first flight) of the 787 any further than it already has been.

    This information is out there, is it so difficult to go find it before publishing wrong info instead? []

    Oh yeah, and the problem with the sections isn't with the skin, it's with the stringers behind them. It leads to wrinkles in the skin, but the real fix is to not mess up the stringers in the first place.

    The statement that this casts even more doubt on the outsourcing model set up at Boeing under Alan Mullaly is most definitely not diminished by the inaccuracies in the reporting of these details.

  • This plane has had a long history of show-stopper problems, delays, more problems, and more problems. And it still hasn't flown once.

    As an airline passenger, this is not making me feel like this is a plane I can trust or should want to fly on. And yes I can choose to fly airlines that haven't ordered and won't use the 787. Pretty easy since it's not exactly selling like wild anyway.

    EADS would have every right to gloat but they're screwed up with 380 problems and internal issues. Both companies look li

    • To this I'd kinda respond with the same thing we do in our own industry: this plane is pretty much in the "beta test" phase. It's under development and not in use except for testing yet. The problems discovered now might hurt Boeing via a shifted deadline, but judging the safety of the plane based on it's testing phase (where they're SUPPOSED to find problems) is a bit like saying that Firefox sucks because back when you tried Phoenix v0.3 it crashed constantly.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:30PM (#29087341)
    They should just do what we do in software. Slap a beta label on it and ship it out the door. Then act condescending when someone complains that their plane crashed.
  • by starrsoft ( 745524 ) * on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:32PM (#29087355) Homepage
    I "discovered found" a mistake; production of this story should have been delayed because of microscopic wrinkles in the sentence structure.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 17, 2009 @01:44AM (#29088773)

    As a mid-career aerodynamics engineer in the American aviation industry, the one trend that I wish I could reverse is the perception that "the process is the product", or that with suitable care and attention to composing Interface Control Documents (ICD's), that the actual act of doing detail design - of applying the lessons learned by a successful technology company over decades of tech and product development - is a fall out.

    It seems to me that Boeing's touting its expertise as a "systems integrator" is a direct reflection of this attitude. You can only achieve the expertise in "systems integration" if you have learned the lessons by actually doing. For fifty years or so, this was accomplished in this industry naturally - young engineers would come start their careers doing basic work (designing clips and brackets, plotting data, composing reports under senior engineers' supervision). Do that long enough, and you gain enough experience to begin to know where issues may lie, and procedures to take to avoid them. Eventually, one could move into a position of seniority where you would be the one overseeing younger engineers, and directing them what and what not to do.

    Nowadays, it seems that the staffs in Systems Engineering (or SEIT) have no practical experience whatsoever. They are given checklists, written by the last wave of experts prior to their golden parachute retirement party, that tell them the most basic questions to ask and the most basic data to be documented, but don't have the hard won knowledge required to push the issue when required. Too often, design reviews are reduced to a SEIT team making sure their document list is complete - and not bothering to check that the information contained in those documents are accurate or applicable.

    Great book on the development of the 747, "Widebody", by Clive Irving. In it, he points to the fact that what enabled the 747 was a direct result of all that came before it in Boeing's experience - from a monocoque fuselage in the 247 (and the importance of doing wind tunnel testing - and engineering - in house lest the results be pinched by the competition), through the complicated systems on the B-29, to the swept wing and podded engines of the 707. And the players in the 747 development were instrumental in all of those previous projects. He stresses the "design bibles" that were compiled across the technical specialties at Boeing - paid for in some cases by pilot lives (Eddie Allen and others). During the days of competition with the USSR to develop an SST, those design bibles were guarded as if they were state secrets.

    Fast forward to today - Boeing outsources not on a build-to-print basis (as you would to a subcontractor), but a total systems solution. They are trusting their subs to design primary structure and produce them - a situation unimaginable in the old days. Maybe they could get away with that approach once - but if you do pursue that path, after you do this once when do you learn and how do you teach the next generation for future design projects? You don't. Who will be available in your home organization to raise the bullshit flag when a low cost subcontractor promises something that is patently impossible? No one, at least no one with the background of experience and technical reputation to be able to stand up to management, badge on the table, saying this shit won't fly.

    Unfortunately for Boeing, and the US, I feel they have already mortgaged their ability to pull off this outsourcing by bleeding their technical staff over the past decade or so. They will eventually pull the 787 program together, and it will eventually pull a profit - lack of competition will insure that - but the break even point on this program will continue to slip to the right, just as it did on the L-1011 and the DC-10, and you can see what those programs did to their respective companies.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.