Much has been made of Airbus costly delays in delivering their super-jumbo A380, which has caused some airlines to cancel orders and demand compensation. We did a number of posts on the “Aircraft Wars” here, here, here, here, and here.
Now it seems Boeing is also facing possible delays with its vaunted 787, partly as a result of the 787’s complex design, but also because of Boeing’s incredibly long and complex global supply chain:
Boeing is using new materials for 50% of the plane that are proving to be more complex than first thought. It also has dozens of suppliers around the world sending parts to Everett. For example the project is so complex that three new 747 freighters are being built to ferry parts from Asia. This plane may be running late – with consequent impact on everything else. The silence from Boeing is serene. Today an An124 ferried in parts from Kawasaki for tests. The need for keeping the parts flowing into the process is crucial because Boeing is planning on assembling a 787 in three days once in full production. The complexity of steady supply flow is not unlike conducting an orchestra with players in different parts of the world. The chance of music becoming cacophony is very real.
The most complex problem Boeing faces is the 787’s very long supply chain. Boeing has not been as dependant on suppliers before making the project much more complex. Indeed, the supply chain is more like that of Airbus, with factories all over and we know what this did to Airbus’ schedules. Boeing has to develop contingency plans to be able to produce key parts internally in case suppliers run late. It is very difficult to watch over a remote process. The company will move mountains to avoid painful problems they have experienced before. Airbus A380 delay woes only serve to underline how important it is to avoid these at all costs. Fortunately, Boeing has sold a lot of 787s, so cost overruns can be amortized more easily.
Big hat tip to PlaneNation.