Date of Award
Campus Access only research projects
Master of Science
School or College
Seaver College of Science and Engineering
Bohdan W. Oppenheim
Boeing's next generation aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner, was deemed to be a significant leap forward in the development and production methodology of aircraft. Based on constant communication with its customers, Boeing determined that its next highly competitive aircraft needed to be capable of flying "long, thin routes" up to 8,800 nautical miles, in addition to maintaining the capacity for up to 200 to 300 passengers.
To meet these user requirements, Boeing determined that its new aircraft must be 20% more fuel-efficient than its 777 aircraft. Boeing then identified five areas of the aircraft where it could improve fuel efficiency by 20%: the engines, aerodynamics, electrical systems, use of composite materials, and systems interaction and cycling.
To build its aircraft, Boeing settled on outsourcing the design and build of 70% of the plane's systems, subsystems, and components. Previous Boeing builds typically outsourced only 50% of the aircraft, mostly comprised of engine and avionics work. In a further deviation from past Boeing builds, Boeing assigned their suppliers the responsibility to actually design the subsystems they were accountable for.
Problems quickly began to mount with the outsourcing paradigm. Suppliers selected were either unqualified for the work they had bid on ( e.g. lacking the necessary personnel expertise), or were ill-equipped to handle the new use of composites ( e.g. lacking proper facilities). In almost all cases, suppliers were not accustomed to conducting the design work themselves. Boeing, which eliminated much of the workforce it had replaced via outsourced means, was subsequently required to send its own engineers countless times to supplier sites for troubleshooting.
Since the requirements for the aircraft were not firm when supplier contracts were selected, suppliers had the flexibility to update their subsystems as time went on and their subsystems gained maturity. As a result, requirements changed throughout the design because the suppliers were constantly in a state of updating their designs. Changes made by one supplier had a direct impact on designs from other suppliers, which then required the suppliers to have to redesign, and the vicious cycle persisted. Throughout these issues, Boeing had poor program management, systems engineering, and oversight of the process.
As a consequence of this process, Boeing was forced to perform much more work than the simple aircraft integration initially planned for the 787. The manufacturer often had to perform the work of its subcontractors at Boeing's own facilities and in some cases had to acquire subcontractors who could not fulfill their obligations, but still contained the necessary expertise. As a result of these issues, countless schedule slippages occurred, resulting in costly penalty fees and order cancellations from its airline customers.
For the program to have been more successful, Boeing should have completed and matured solid requirements prior to their subcontracting selection. In order to solidify specific requirements, Boeing should have engaged their supplier base very early in the plane's development and further involved the suppliers in the design of the aircraft and their relevant subsystems. An even better approach would have been to eliminate the excessive outsourcing altogether and complete the design and manufacturing completely internal to Boeing. While additional upfront costs would be necessary, cost savings would be realized over the life cycle of the pro gram.
Stier, Anthony, "The Boeing 787 Dreamliner" (2014). LMU/LLS Theses and Dissertations. 442.