Charleston plant continues to give Boeing headaches for 787

Boeing is adding hundreds of workers to its Charleston (SC) 787 plant top deal with continued quality problems, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The details in the article are at odds with statements from Boeing throughout the last year that all was well at the plant, including that plans to produce three 787s a month by the end of last year were on track. When the Charleston Post-and-Courier prepared to report that the Charleston plant would fail to meet this goal, Boeing’s Charleston spokeswoman issued a rather snarky response that proved to be at odds with statements from Boeing’s own officials.

We heard all year that there were continued quality control issues at Charleston and production was slower than expected. Further, we had heard of traveled work that required IAM 751 members at the Everett (WA) plant to fix this work–which the WSJ reports has been climbing and now exceeds the 2011 level.

35 Comments on “Charleston plant continues to give Boeing headaches for 787

  1. Boeing’s issue with unionized Seattle,as I understand it, is cost. But if it takes more, albeit cheaper, staff to produce a plane in Charleston, those cost savings will be wiped out. This doesn’t take into account opportunity costs because they are delivering fewer planes than they might, and reputational costs if those planes are substandard.

  2. Is this a kind of cold war between Charleston and Everett (IAM75) ?

    “reputational costs if those planes are substandard”

    Do these aircraft not meet customer requirements at delivery?

        • Uhh top boom — shhhhhhhhhh ! Lets not forget the 777x-tortion game about establishing a greenfield production and assembly line in east bumbleshoot or else !!

          Vito Coreleone would have been proud.

        • Lufthansa has no 787 on order. So the chance for Lufthansa to receive an aircraft from Charleston is relative low.
          Even the Everett factory with an experienced workforce makes errors. It would be interesting to compare the airline’s checklists for both 787 lines.

    • Out of sequence work implies things will get missed, I think. If customers are acting as quality control managers then Boeing really does have a problem. Customers will accept planes that pass their tests. If they fail beyond normal adjustments, that raises issues that Boeing will want to avoid. Hence the major recruitment of QC personnel, I guess.

      • Can we identify any noteworthy differences in production path for forex
        DY/Norwegian’s Dreamliners ?
        One frame appears to come down with problems on a regular basis
        while at least one other frame is a lot closer to expected quality levels.
        Using Beoeings “Gold Care” DY is imho the perfect indicator for
        who is instrumental in the ups and downs of Dreamliner useability.

  3. Faster-better cheaper- pick any two. In this case BAwanted to pick cheaper- and got NONE of the three. Hey Jim- building airplanes is NOT like a post it note assembly line !!

    • Yes, the Dan Goldin initiated “faster-better-cheaper-paradigm” at NASA, that didn’t turn out too well, though, for the Mars Climate Orbiter. 😉

      It’s going further and faster with fewer people and with a smaller budget. If we’re successful, I think we’ll raise the bar on the whole faster, better, cheaper mantra to a new level—to a level that’s not been attained by anyone else.

      • Primary cause for the loss was a lax interface definition.
        Next stop was lack of an experienced operations team.

        This hinges a bit around how formalised your education system is.
        In a trade oriented learning on the job environment you loose
        proficiency faster than in a more formal system.

  4. Who does employee training in Charleston? This is more of a training issue than anything else. Properly trained employees have fewer quality control issues.

    • I assume they are trained by other non union instructors from South Carolina.
      Considering that Charleston and the Carolinas in general have not been a major aerospace manufacturing center for the world over the last decades a considerable degree of “tribal knowledge” is lacking.

      • Tribal knowledge is exactly the point. That has been lacking in the 787 program all along. It might as well have been a plane built by a manufacturer that had never built an airplane. That applies to the engineering and the production. There is lore that just isn’t recorded anywhere, but is passed down from the experience of doing it. That the plane is built with a new material doesn’t lessen the value of generations of accumulated knowledge. Starting a plant in Charleston just made the situation worse. Not because of the people, who are probably just as qualified, but because of the dearth of accumulated knowledge.

      • A company moves to South Carolina for many reasons but the main one is being known as a non-union state with low wages and benefits. Along with that comes a work force in a state that had a saying, “thank God for Mississippi” Don’t know about today, but some years ago South Carolina was number 49 in education and Mississippi was 50th.
        That would go a long way in explaining the problems at the Charleston assembly line.
        Look were Airbus is setting up a FAL, in Alabama. Expect a slow learning curve there also.

  5. If the IAM had held out, they would have got the 777X in Everett without giving up what they did. You can see why Boeing Chicago wanted to force the contract thorough.

    The point is being missed. Its not a union non union issue, it’s a Boeing Chicago issue.
    Its not a training issue, it’s a management issue.


    If a Meteor struck Chicago taking out the entire board group there, Boeing would go on without a hiccup. If a Meteor stuck Everett suburbs taking out 10% of the workers (leaving the factory intact) Boeing would not be able to make aircraft (and yes studies have been done and that’s all it take sis 10% at random)

    Chicago thinks they are the company and the workers are dirt when in fact the workers are the company and you can plug in any clown as CEO and the company can and does survive it (as Ford and GM and Chrysler proved though it will come to an end eventually when they have run the company into the groudn long enough).

    Chicago is classical bean counters who have no vision or skill along with the hubris the system currently not only encourages but aids and abets their preening in the mirror.

    The fact that Everett and Renton crank out aircraft is not because of the union, its because of the vast cultural experience that work force has. In this case it is Union Experienced Workforce and they do make it work and work amazing well despite the management screw ups (Everett had its share as well but they are far close to reality of who is important to success and who is not)

    IT does take a good management, engineers and technician as well as a good workforce to keep a company a long term success. For Chicano Mafia to think the sun shines and sets on them and that they are the company, it just shows that they really should be in an institution where people who do not deal with reality can exchange view.

    I have been in unions, if you are lucky, one out of 10 knows his job. However, they all get paid the same (entry level excepting IAM/apprentices ), no one gets anything more or less than others and there is NO reason not to pass it on. Actually it is expected and part of that union culture. That one in 10 leverage itself into ensuring that the majority are taught how to do it right.

    In the IAM case, it may well be that there are far more than 1 in 10 than typical union. Regardless of the numbers, they are an experienced corp, give the good ones a problem, they will figure a way around the issue crated by engineers and suppliers (if humanly possible, wing joint was not possible of course). They make it work.

    Charleston was Chicago mafias making a decision based on a vendetta (which is classic mafia thinking) not a business decision

    I have nothing against the Charleston workers. Actually having been in several unions I relate to them. I suspect they are every bit or even more hard working as Everett and Renton. They do not have the experiences and its not their fault that Chicago created the situation to cause them to struggle.
    There is no work force that does or did similar work to draw from in that region.

    The talent depth is thin, you have a Manager (local) a foreman, a technician or worker quit, get sick or gone for any reason, there is no one to pick up their skills. There are few to pass on, monitor, mentor and ensure quality work.

    So there are going to be major problems. The reasons on ALL job resumes they want people with 5 years experience is that it take 5 YEARS for someone to get good at their job.

    There is no such thing as a training issue. Any thing attribute to training is a MANAGEMENT issue. In this case, Chicago. Everett Boeing would never have put the factory in Charleston because they know how incredibly hard it is to do it with a fully trained , experienced and deep work force. Chicago does not have a clue (well they do, they just don’t care and get away with it as there is zero accountability at that level)

    • Maybe worker owned co-ops would beat these outsourcing, faster, cheaper, slash and burn, school of Jack Welsh managers.

    • “Chicago thinks they are the company and the workers are dirt …”
      “Chicago is classical bean counters who have no vision or skill along with the hubris the system currently not only encourages but aids and abets their preening in the mirror.”

      You are imho watching the creation of a (new) feudal society.

    • Smokerr,

      You make some good points – especially about the willingness of a Unionized workforce to mentor and pass on its knowledge. I mean, in a non-union shop, to mentor a young employee – to get him knowledgeable – would be career suicide for the older employees who would be let go as soon as possible. And…I’ve seen this paradigm work not only in production environments, but in Engineering Design Organizations where the older Engineers would just refuse to tell the younger Engineers how things really got done. It’s called Job Security.

      All this non-sharing of information sounds like a self-defeating excersise – and it ultimately is self-defeating, but what does that matter to the older Engineer if he loses his job because he’s taught the new Engineer too much? I mean, he’s screwed either way, but will probably end up making more money tightly guarding his knowledge and refusing to share it. I know that GD, MACDAC and Lockheed Engineering Departments worked this way, and I bet Boeing caught the disease, too – company-wide. Now…I bet the disease seems has migrated to the factory floor in Charleston and spread amongst the assemblers.

      Also, I have seen a disease amongst Union Workers at MacDac and GD that is most horrible – the “I don’t care Disease”: the disease where Union Guys work just hard enough to keep their jobs and not a skint of effort more. No pride in their work. No Company Loyalty. No hope that doing a job well will be rewarded. Only the hope that someone screwing up will yield some needed overtime pay in order for them to get financially right. I once heard a MacDac Engineer call the process “Milking the Job” and told me the process had infected the engineers, too (I already knew this). However, I think he got it quite right with that expression.

      So…here is Boeing with a record backlog of planes that it can’t seem to produce profitably (i.e., the 787) and so they took the time during the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays to demoralize their workforce with an outrageous, out-of-the-blue contract demand. What was to be a season of celebration and hope for the workers turned into a “Let’s rub your nose in it” festival. Yeah…those workers should be really motivated now! I bet they can’t wait to get back to work and work their tails off, solve problems and share with management tricks they find to help build the aircraft better!

      Oh yeah….and just how many firm orders does Boeing have for the 777x Program for which they caused so much turbulence over the Holidays? What…Emirates hasn’t firmed their order yet? Say it ain’t so!

      • Boeing bought the disease when they merged with MACDAC. They went from engineers that built airplanes but didn’t always count the beans right to hell bent bean counters worshipping the bottom line and to heck with everything else.

        • Just a reminder to everyone that the comments need to focus on the issues. The rhetoric is getting a bit more heated than we prefer.


  6. It is very obvious that there is a division between Boeing Chicago and the production sites. Very sad that such a split exists.
    Airbus in comparison appear to be a cohesive team, and very few issues are evident.
    Boeing were once a proud and respected company, but today appear as a divided and somewhat disjointed operation.
    If I were a shareholder perhaps I would be delighted by current results, but I have misgivings for their long term future using present management philosophies.
    Employee loyalty cannot be underestimated and in my opinion it does not appear to be a consideration under the present regime.

  7. The one advantage of a union shop that often gets overlooked, is that an employee can follow the rules without retribution. The rules meaning working to the plan that the FAA has agreed to in letting us build these incredible aircraft. I myself have had to defend my actions when I refused to break the rules, and the union was right behind me protecting my job. Lots of sub par quality coming from our southern brothers and sisters these days. Just say’n

    • That is only valid for a setup like the one we find in the US where “Union” is not only about worker selforganisation but also qualification, certification and a bunch of other sidelines. A saner setup would be possible if this had been parted out to different entities. The situation is archaic.

  8. How many year does Mcnerney receive to get his arms around the 787 program? I think this latest announcement about Charleston and apparent issues on the P-8 will lead the street to want to accelerate Mcnerney’s replacement with an effective leader like Muilenburg.

  9. the problems with the P-8 are not due to Boeing directly- BA does not do the radar and electronics bit Check with Raytheon and Northrup . Besides which McNearney and the MDC boys had little to do with the P-8 airframe and program. They haven’t YET managed to fubarf the 737 series- probably because they spent to much time on the 7 late 7 program.

    • Boeing does do some of the electronics and code on the P-8. Like many other programs, they over promised and tinkered with requirements till they had no clue what they really need to deliver to the Navy. So Navy took what they could and plans to beat the rest of the deliverables out of Boeing. On top of that, once Boeing NW stole all the work from Wichita, they started re-designing and tinkering with requirements till they are in the same situation as the P-8. Burned the entire budget and are behind schedule. All before they got the first flight off the ground. A prime example of saving a buck but screwing up the deliverable is that they required the Tanker folks to use the P-8 controller for the Tanker. Already had it qualified, so they thought whats the big deal? Well, lets see, launching buoys and such vs. flying a boom. Hmmm…nothing here to worry about. To this day the requirements for the controllers are still thrashing cuz folks in the NW just can’t leave things alone. Just another fireball in the sky waiting to happen. Speaking of which, I wonder when the crap will hit the fan on VC-25? Chicago had to make an example of places like Wichita, Seal Beach, etc. and burn ’em to the ground thinking they can drop this work on anyone, any where and things will just go smooth as silk. Arrogance on the grandest scale. All for a buck. Gotta get rid of the unions. Gotta get rid of the pensioners. Gotta get rid of the older workers that are still accumulating bennies under the old system. When they are all done and the smoke clears they find that the bottom line isn’t improving as expected. In fact going flat and starting to turn south. No more cash cows like freezing pensions, reducing benefits and hiring cheaper workers to hide the fact that they are running the business into the ground. Boeing used to be a respectable place where management and engineers and factory workers actually worked together to create a quality product. Respect and pride. Not any more. All theory X adversity now. Kick ass and take names. No accountability for management. Why should the factory floor people or the engineers give a dam? They do try but they are frustrated beyond belief. Running scared is not an effective motivational tool in business. Seattle and St Louis are the last bastions of what Boeing/MACDAC used to be and they are under fire as Chicago is taking all the tactics that were successful at dismantling the smaller sites and bringing those weapons to bear on these last two sites. What emerges on the other side will be a pitiful skeleton of what used to be an excellent world class business. What once was the pride of the US will be brought to it’s knees by those who are it’s leaders. Easy pickings for the likes of Airbus and the rising dragons of China. Foreign competition? Unfair business practices? Industrial espionage? Nope…folks we did this to ourselves…all for a buck.

  10. The P8 problems will be solved. Someone will pay the bill and it useally aint the industry..

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