Monday, December 17, 2012

(Update) Boeing's All Electric Problem Generates More Smoke

First there was fire in the 787 control panels, back on its last runs, during test completion of the long delayed project. Then there was a United Aircraft reporting a generator fault and diversion flight because the number six generator failed, and Qatar's number 6 generator shut down on its 3rd Aircraft delivery flight. In total a test copy, two United aircraft and a Qatar unit all experiencing "all electric problems", when flying the 787. What does this hold for Boeing's aspirations in selling this Bird to the whole world? Let us quickly refine the inference.

Redundancy, due diligence, and extensive test process have won the day so far. Without it,  would be told a different story. I believe these lessons are not lost on Airbus. Had Boeing rushed through three years of delays and did not conduct a copious amount of work on an all new technology aircraft, I would not want to think how it would magnify the risk.

Is it the generator, or the a newly designed power panels? That is the question before Boeing. So far they have endured the angst of Akbar Al Baker from Qatar, and the disappointment from United's management. But to the Boeing Company's relief, they have been manageable progressions of teething its new aircraft, that is so different than anything before flown.  The 787 looks likes a metal aircraft until its wings lift skyward, has the same isles to walk down, and even the seats are close enough together to make money and remind passengers its an airplane after-all. Faking passengers into thinking, "Nothing new here, just newer and more convenient passenger gimmicks in play".

The 2010 panel fire established the importance of doing it right the first time. A redesign of the area forces out the opportunity of sloppy mistakes causing a fire, or other problems in the most critical area of the "all electric architecture" design.

Generator Fault events 2-4 (recent in the news for United and Qatar) are the reporting errors (faults), causing to shut down the aircraft's generator #6,  because something wrong is detected, and therefore # 6 ceases operation. This is a built-in safety mode after detection of fault.  Boeing and everybody else would like to know what happened from the control panel to the generator.  Software, switching, or firmware glitch? Installation problems, inferior parts, or design problem? These are all the questions needing answers, and goes beyond just the basics. Redundancy saves the day, but it also could be a redundancy tuning problem.  That is just one example of what engineers are asking of its programs, controlling all electrical flows with continuous back-up systems. Having this preventative redundancy system, protects from catastrophic failures, is done through its sequencing through various check-offs of its systems, and may cause a minor blip shutting down a generator in an irregular manner.  What you don't want is a cycling of that type of problem that will shut down other generators in succession over time during a flight. Once again Boeing and its partners have a lot to test, even after its 3 years of delays. This problem sounds glitchy and can be solved with some extra testing, workings and implementation.

Qatar's concern is a underlying challenge of Boeing, for an aircraft performing as advertised. The CEO, Al Baker does give recognition for the aircraft's performance and general nature of a fine aircraft. His own fire is not for the electric control panel but for principals of having a 100% working copy of the 787 for its customers.  Boeing is doing its job of extinguishing that fire with its hat-in-hand extinguishers, by continuing forward with Quality Management (QM) of continuous improvement through the birthing stages of a new technology.  Continuous Improvement works and is found in the leading manufacturers in the world. The built-in safety measures allows Boeing to continue on this path. Risk are mitigated and solutions are found, refined and implemented.  This is what Boeing is saying, when it states in a dismissive manner to a problem, that any new project has these types of problems during the start-up, and "we" will deal with them immediately, even after three years of delay. A strong downplay is too much by Boeing, as is a strong overplay by a customer.

Those close to the situation, probably know what happened already, but need to validate that assumption with a real replication of the incidents. I would not be surprise to see "a in storage test 787" flying again soon, focus on some customer concerns, and electrical testing issues. Boeing will validate the problem and certify the fix.  Right now "All Things 787"  has its score card at 0 Non Customer Flights. That may change soon.

Update 12/22/12:

ZA005 is now on the flight schedule! Do not know if this is related to electrical issues for testing. It is in the Non-Customer Flight Category. I can assume ZA005 is rolled out for flight testing for any new issues that Boeing is going to resolve. Note that ZA005 is a GE, and United/Qatars are GE's. So far the Rolls equipped aircraft have not shown an electrical issue like the recent GE powered ships.  Boeing could be testing systems on ZA005 comparing to the faulted systems on the delivered GE powered aircraft, in order to determine what is different on delivered aircraft with its test model. Definitely checklist items for problem solving is on board the ZA005 along with any other new upgrades for testing.