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And the 787 would need more fasteners
made of the titanium alloys that are least
susceptible to corrosion when in contact
with carbon composites.
As the 787 project geared up, the industry
was already in the midst of a fastener short-
age. But Boeing's extensive outsourcing strat-
egy compounded this problem. The back of
the fuselage was made by Vought Aircraft
Industries in South Carolina; a middle chunk
by Alenia Aeronautica in Italy; the nose by
Spirit AeroSystems in Kansas. In Japan, Mit-
subishi, Fuji, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries
built the wing structures---and Kawasaki built
yet another piece of fuselage.
Suppliers were ordering fasteners in dif-
ferent ways and on di erent schedules; as a
result, the fastener manufacturers found it
di cult to make coherent production plans,
according to a recent case study by the Uni-
versity of Michigan's Ross School of Business
that drew on Boeing reports and interviews
with company employees. This bogged down
manufacturing. "Boeing was caught o guard,"
says Ravi Anupindi, a professor of operations
management at Ross. "By the time they knew
about it, it was at a crisis stage." To solve the
problem, the company wound up taking over
the ordering of all fasteners.
Next, problems arose with the composite
structures. In March 2008, Boeing said that
parts of the center wing box, built by Fuji
Heavy Industries, had unexpectedly buck-
led during stress testing. This caused a six-
month setback as Boeing added aluminum
reinforcements to the boxes and changed
the designs of future ones. Then, days before
a planned first flight in June 2009, the com-
pany discovered that composite "stringers"
joining the main wing structure to the center
wing box---the most severely stressed con-
nections on any plane---had delaminated in
testing. Boeing had to remake the wing-body
connections, adding, among other things,
34 new titanium fittings.
The full story behind these issues has
not been revealed, and Boeing provided
no interviews for this story. "It's hard to tell
where a lack of oversight by Boeing ends and
a bad contractor performance begins," says
Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal
Group, a think tank and consultant to the
civil and military aviation industries. "Get-
ting other people to build things for them
worked well for Boeing, decade after decade.
So with the 787, it was just faith. It might
have worked with traditional designs, but
with composites and new techniques, it was
guaranteed to be a disaster."
The problems and delays contributed to the
$3.5 billion in charges the company took last
year. And Boeing found it necessary to buy
the South Carolina plant of Vought, which
had fallen behind on its fuselage work, and
to build a second fuselage assembly line.
The company recognized belatedly that its
outsourcing had gone too far, says Morris
Cohen, a professor of manufacturing and
logistics at the Wharton School at the Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania. "We see more and
more outsourcing of manufacturing, glob-
ally, in high-tech industries," Cohen says.
"We are discovering that as you move down
that path, the challenges are not trivial. I
don't think companies have paid enough
attention to how to manage supply chains
from a strategic perspective."
The clearest consequence, besides the
costly delays, is that the first few 787s will
probably be heavier than the targeted 108
tons. Nevertheless, the first 787s are sched-
uled to be delivered this year. And as long as
the plane ultimately performs as advertised,
the delays may not harm Boeing's long-term
reputation. "Boeing can very easily redeem
itself by producing a product that the market
wants," says Aboulafia. Airlines and pas-
sengers, he adds, "remember the product,
not how it was executed."
Meanwhile, the Airbus A380 program has
faced its own manufacturing glitches. More
significant, the plane has found relatively
few buyers; with a capacity between 525 and
853 passengers, it is simply too big to make
sense for many airlines. Whereas Boeing has
logged more than 800 orders for the 787, only
about 200 have come in for the A380, earn-
ing the aircraft---whose maker is headquar-
tered in Toulouse, France---the nickname
"Toulouse Goose," after Howard Hughes's
infamous "Spruce Goose," the wood-framed
World War II--era behemoth that never made
it beyond a single prototype.
Even if the 787 passes through all the tur-
bulence, Boeing can't rest for long. Airbus
now has a 787 competitor waiting in the
wings: the midsize A350, also 50 percent
composite. About 500 orders have come in,
and Airbus says it's on track to start deliver-
ing the aircraft in 2013. So in a sense, the 787
program seems likely to pay o one way or
another. If it provided a hard lesson about
the limits of outsourcing and the risks of
innovating with composite materials, the
bold design also gave Boeing a much-needed
head start on the next phase of innovation
in commercial aviation.
DAVID TALBOT IS TECHNOLOGY REVIEW'S CHIEF COR
MATERIALS SCIENCE? A Boeing 787 Dreamliner undergoes final assembly in Everett, WA. The
jet s fuselage and wings are made entirely of composite materials, a first in commercial aviation.
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