787 Developments: There have been a flurry of developments late Friday on the Boeing 787.
First, it emerged that Boeing’s Charleston plant will not reach a production target of three per month by the end of this year as Boeing repeatedly said. The Charleston Post & Courier first reported the story, and the Puget Sound Business Journal picked up on it Friday.
We weren’t surprised by this because (1) we’d been hearing rumblings for months that progress at Charleston was less than Boeing was suggesting publicly and (2) we got a call from the Post & Courier reporter a week ago perplexed by Boeing’s response when he made inquiries. And to us, this is the most bizarre part of the entire story. Boeing’s official response was quite snarky:
“If anyone was under the impression that Boeing South Carolina would be at three per month by the end of this year, they didn’t understand what we’ve been saying about the surge line in Everett helping us to meet the program-level rate as the facility there comes up in rate. That’s been our message for a long time now,” the Boeing Charleston spokesperson told the P&C and Everett told the Business Journal (via two different spokespersons).
This was really quite a pissy official statement from Boeing.
When the P&C presented Boeing with Boeing’s own statements from last year pledging a 3/mo production rate at Charleston, the Corporate Communications people had to backtrack. Steve Wilhelm at the Business Journal wrote:
But when confronted with Boeing’s own October 2012 release stating that the North Charleston operation would hit three monthly by the end of this year, as well as a 2012 interview with North Charleston site director Jack Jones, in which he said he expected to hit an even-higher 3.5 monthly rate by the end of this year, the Boeing communications team backed down.
After conferring with her colleagues, presumably in North Charleston, [Lori] Gunter (Boeing Everett) issued this statement:
“The 787 program is on track to reach a total production rate of 10 airplanes per month by the end of 2013. This rate will be accomplished by combining the results of the Everett Final Assembly Line, the Boeing South Carolina Final Assembly Line and the Temporary Surge Line in Everett. Boeing South Carolina is expected to reach a production rate of three airplanes per month in 2014.”
This is an embarrassing display from Boeing.
Since the surge line had been put over to rework, we wonder its current status.
Second, The Wall Street Journal, followed by The Seattle Times, reported that Canada’s regulators are about to issue an Airworthiness Directive concerning Honeywell’s Emergency Locator Transmitter; and that there was a part that should have prevent the ELT from overheating in the event of a short circuit.
I believe the rework activities have been and are being conducted at the Everett Modification Center (EMC) which is separate hangar at the south end of Paine Field. Boeing was using the surge line, building 40-24, along with the main Everett 787 FAL, building 40-26, to crank out 787-8’s. Now the surge line is currently being exclusively devoted to the assembly of the flight test 787-9 frames. Once the first 3 787-9’s are completed, 787-8’s will start to roll out of the surge line again.
There was a production slow-down on the main Everett 787 FAL during June/July. Uresh Sheth mentioned in his blog that the reason was a tooling change in preparation for the rate break to 10/month later this year. I think an additional reason could be that Boeing chose to focus resources on the assembly of the first 787-9. Either way, while the slow-down was happening, Boeing rotated previously finished 787-8’s back into position 4 in both the FAL and surge line to complete “unfinished” work. The recent rate break to 7/month might not have gone as smoothly as Boeing was letting on, or the unfinished work might have been the battery fix installation on frames that had gone through assembly before the fix could be incorporated upstream of the FAL.
787-8s and 787-9s do not mix well in final assembly, for instance the side-of-body and the some body joins are different.
There is no slow down in final assembly unless you assume that final assembly was ramped to 7 per month in spring. But the rate was constant at 5 per month since late autumn 2012. It looks like one or two airframes were built at 7 per month pace with a few blanks to accomodate them in the overall 5 per month flow.
The upstream supply chain seems to be running at 7 per month producing buffer inventory for a leap-frog ramp to 10 per month – good luck…
“The 787 program is on track to reach a total production rate of 10 airplanes per month by the end of 2013. This rate will be accomplished by combining the results of the Everett Final Assembly Line, the Boeing South Carolina Final Assembly Line and the Temporary Surge Line in Everett.”
But today what is the output at each location? And what is it expected to be by the end of the year? They don’t give the breakdown, only the combined production.
The Boeing officials in South Carolina don’t sound very professional. We can sense the frustration, the arrogance and even the contempt they seem to have towards the journalists. Only polite and respectful people should be in key PR positions at large corporations like Boeing. And before they make important public statements they should coordinate their internal communications.
This situation could be symptomatic of a malaise throughout the company. I have the impression that they don’t know exactly where they are going. Boeing has to fix its internal problems while at the same time it has to make important decisions on new aircraft programmes. But the Dreamliners that are in service keep them preoccupied constantly by urgent issues and potentially catastrophic events. And all this is happening while Boeing appears to be profoundly reorganizing its operations. Maybe that’s why McNerney wants to stay a little longer. He does not want to leave Boeing in shambles.
Depends a bit on what one defines as “production”.
Boeing still has a siginificant number of stored (pre)produced airframes.
Is “produced” attached to leaving the FAL or is it linked to a deliverable frame?
With a bit of flexibility in definitions … you could even count some frames twice 😉
Finally the real performance metric probably is customer deliveries.
McNerney is the problem, not the solution
The last sentence was written with a high dose of irony. Top rated managers are routinely praised for fixing problems they have created in the first place. A variation on the theme of the pyromaniac firefighter.
Look at the matter positively:
1) It’s prudent for a new FAL go slowly early on and gain experience before speeding up.
2) If SC can do 1.5, plus WA 8.5, to add up to 10 at the end of 2013, then when SC hits 3 in 2014, Boeing will already be making 11.5 per month, which isn’t bad at all.
I recall an article quoting a Boeing official who said Charleston that additional tooling for aft-body fabrication is slated to arrive in 2Q 2014.
Also, somewhere else it was said that one of the three mid-body integration lines has been devoted to the 787-9 (like the surge line in Everett)
Boeing PR has consistently diverted attention to the FAL situation while the bottlenecks always were in Tier-1 pre-assembly and Tier-2 fabrication.
I find the last press statement even more embarrasing. It shows the total inability to communicate bad news. The news will always be upbeat, everything is fine. That’s how Boeing stakeholders learned to ignore it during the last 7 years and look for what folks like Ostrower & Scott think.
“Boeing South Carolina is expected to reach a production rate of three airplanes per month in 2014.”
Lori must have dropped the last page of her announcement. Second shift facilities cleaners found it later. Here’s what it said: “So what if the production rate increase is late. It really doesn’t matter. Look at all the money we’re saving by not having to pay union wages in Charleston. Whatever it has cost us to spite the IAM, what the heck, it’s been worth it”.
Nothing new, always the same PR in damage control mode confirming that there is nobody at the wheel!
This is worrying, at the least.
Scott, I often find it difficult to state my feelings for this entire 787 program without offending some of your readership. The problem with the 787 has not been the new technology. The new technology is the best, most exciting, part of the program. The problem has been a lack of clear direction from the top since the beginning, and a program in which management which has no idea how to build a new airplane sets out goals without any form of a plan of how to reach those goals. The design to meet the goals is in the hands of people who may be very good at what they do but who have no central direction and authority, and often find themselves in conflict with others who are trying valiantly to meet the same goals but have chosen a different route to get there. The result is a roll-out of a sham airplane. Then the PR group (a place incidentally where Boeing seems to be prepared to spend any amount of money to preserve image) brings nonsensical and conflicting messages to the stage.
A new aircraft, a new manufacturing plant, new workers in a state where such work is not so common. Its going to take some time for employees to get up to speed. The Seattle area has been doing this type of wok for decades and has a local workforce that is seasoned in high tech manufacturing. For years the phrase in South Carolina was “thank God for Mississippi”, as they were 50th in education and South Carolina was 49th.
It will take time to change the way of thinking in a state where many would say, “this is how we do things here” or “I don’t care how they do it up north”. They can and will learn and the plant should be able to crank out more frames but I don’t offer a time frame on this point.
Off-topic but thought provoking:
Maybe Boeing is actually producing closer to 5-per-month at Charleston, but tries to downplay the production rate in order to fool Airbus. This way, Airbus doesn’t know how much 787 goodness is being pumped into the marketplace and how badly the a350 is already getting beat. As a result, Airbus slacks off and takes even a longer vacation this August and really falls behind! Like I said – this could be a smaller piece of a much larger Master Plan.
I think you’re on to something. That must be the same cunning masterplan by which Boeing pretended to roll out a flyable plane on 7-8-7, instead of a 787 mockup with Home Depot fasteners. Well that worked, it fooled Airbus into selling hundreds of A330s in the meantime
Maybe the battery thing didn’t happen afterall.. it’s a decoy, a small piece of a much larger Masterplan to Box In Airbus..
These comments have gone from attempts to shed some light on a rather dark situation to just plane silly….
And we like to pretend we might have productive insight and answers?……
Well…such PR issues are for chatting and less innocuous so don’t be serious.
What’s the alternative to some levity in the face of PR incompetence such as was displayed here?
It’s not that hard to figure out at all: Everett is on track, South Carolina is a bit behind the curve (not a big deal, just not where they wanted to be by now) and, now here is the fuzzy part of all of the communications, the “temporary” surge line will make up the difference.
But how long will the surge line be in action and what will they do with it later?
Oh, and the last part, at least two “promising” careers in Boeing PR just went up in smoke´,
or at least they should.
And how much does the surge line cost, compared to planned Charleston production?
All that matters is Charleston, because that’s where the mid-body and aft-body integration lines are – exclusively. To increase rate they can either go down the flow time learning curve or install additional tooling – or both. To go to rate 10 Chrleston might have to implement a fourth line for mid-bodies.