Saturday, May 4, 2013

Boeing Making A Proprietary Shift

Boeing is beginning to seek a proprietary shift in its manufacturing. This shift will not be a wholesale cashing out of contractors, but a subtle shift towards controlling what Boeing can control well even at one part at a time where necessary.  The Boeing partners need not worry, but are partially liable for this shift. Boeing's duopoly with Airbus and another new kid on the block, Comac, hold some pressure on Boeing's quiet change of strategy of seeking proprietary solutions for new aircraft productions with key parts that Boeing can do. It is an old strategy of added value from its own production resources. The second strategy is having exclusive proprietary control over aerospace advancements where its competitors cannot access.

Case points:

Moving key 787  parts back to Boeing from contractors who under perform, or what Boeing can do by recapturing assurances and improving reliability for that part. The strategy of establishing design and parts production to Charleston, SC where it can, rather than letting another manufacturer handle other process is a signal that Boeing actively controls the parts flow before some condition from the outside could stall the program later.

Boeing South Carolina will design 737 MAX part

"Boeing spokeswoman Cris McHugh said the company is “moving more design work inside Boeing to strengthen our production system, protect our intellectual property and enhance our long-term competitiveness.”"

Boeing must make extreme provisions and exclusive rights over technology handed off to its suppliers. Some items are common place in the manufacturing world, and do not need special handling for its protection from competitors. But there are a group of technologies that require special handling for maintaining its proprietary advantage over the competitor.

The reasons of critical need for Boeing are as follows:

  • Shared technology with a supplier must remain proprietary to Boeing.
  • Quality of product must consistently meet a High standard.
  • Delivery of product must meet Boeing standards for timeliness and in quantity.
  • Competitor must not gain advantage from Boeing's specification and its application of that part.
If you look at Boeing's track record of refining supplier, parts, and reliability you see changes in its supply stream is continually improving, where it can improve the production environment. The more you can do inhouse manufacturing , is the more you can control in critical areas. However, the more you can rely on those out of house (manufacturing parts), the more you can apply your resources in better served areas where Boeing has expertise. 

So far Boeing has been burnt on several issues from its partners, by underperforming contractual supplier parts not meeting its promises. Boeing has to undergo remedial change in those areas by bringing some of the production back in house where it can.  

A tightening of the parts stream will continue in spurts as Boeing can analyse partnering performers and where Boeing can step-in and supply the part or fill the "gap". Currently, Boeing will stand by its design partners and suppliers. before ever shifting  back to a US suppliers or with Boeing itself. Its a matter of having the best production plan in place for its best parts.

The Charleston example of 737 engine nacelles parts, is something it can quickly do and is capable of on a regular basis. In house projects has room in South Carolina. Smaller parts are shippable around the world.  As the Boeing 787 matures, Boeing may take on more small bits from the general parts areas leaning towards the Carbon Fiber arena. It does not need to build engines, make wings, or become a battery supplier; but does need to fill in the small gaps by using its growing Charleston facility with engineering, and innovation in support of its partnering suppliers. Have a proprietary stamp on innovation will separate Boeing from its competitors, and it can have an affect when CFM and GE supplies the engines to Boeing, that no other competitor can use those types of Boeing exclusive innovations found with its partners, as with those stalwart engine makers. 

Japanese manufacturing is quickly becoming the world's leading CFRP wing maker. Boeing's wing design is world leading and the production is of extreme high quality, manufactured in Japan. The two of them together make the all new aircraft performance ahead of the pack.  Boeing is taking an interesting tack by setting design parameters for its world leading manufacturers to produce its proprietary systems that the competition can not borrow, copy or duplicate. Airbus may use the same manufacturer for braking systems or computer firmware, but it cannot duplicate Boeing's research on those items.

Boeing is not reeling back on its suppliers, and is not getting into the many faceted field of aerospace specialties, but it is beginning to fine tune its control over the vast field of manufacturers who are given a task of making a system or part without any control in place from Boeing.  The oversight and involvement level is dramatically increasing.  Boeing won't manufacture a landing gear, wing or engine. But they need a strong presence at the point of development for those various specialty makers when something goes wrong. They have been tightening this gap since it first proclaimed a strategy of shared investment, and risks with its suppliers, as the new way to build an airplane. It has now come back and reexamined the troubled progress of the 787. This has become the "engine" of Boeing's strategy adjustment.

To name a few well publicized failures:
  • Fasteners
  • Barrels 
  • Delamination Issues
  • Battery/Electrical
Perhaps not a complete list, but it makes the point that Boeing is going through a new phase, away from dependence on the earlier strategy of building airplanes out of a parts bin, and heading towards a more co-share of aircraft building.  If somebody does something quite well, and they have a long relationship in play, then the leash is out all the way. If someone is new at it, and claims it can do it best, then the leash gets very short with Boeing. Hence the fine tuning of its suppliers, and Boeing will jump in where it can, so it can make a difference.

That is a change I am seeing with this article at the top of the Blog relating to a  737 part, produced at Boeing's Charleston plant.