September 4, 2007

Temporary Fasteners Causing Major Problems for 787 Program

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According to sources with direct knowledge at both ends of the major sub-assembly supply chain, temporary parts, including fasteners, are causing significant slow downs in the 787 program.

The source of the slowdown in progress on Dreamliner One originated in the rush to meet the July 8th roll out. The push to achieve this milestone forced supply chain partners to use over-the-counter parts and prevented assembly teams from being able to document the location of these temporary fasteners on the first 787.

Boeing has previously acknowledged that temporary fasteners would be required on early 787 airframes while a shortage of flightworthy fasteners was being remedied. Flightblogger has learned that many of the temporary fasteners, which were painted red and installed in place of flightworthy parts, were purchased from run-of-the-mill chain hardware stores, including Home Depot and Ace Hardware.

The use of hardware store parts has been confirmed by multiple sources working directly with the aircraft at assembly sites in both Everett, Wa. and Charleston, S.C.

As a result, Boeing must now comb through the aircraft to locate, document and replace all of the temporary fasteners to prevent a single non-flightworthy fastener from flying.

The slowdown is occurring at several different levels.

The first is the difficulty in identifying where these fasteners were installed on the aircraft. All fasteners have to meet FAA conformity standards and engineering requirements for flight worthiness. A record, or travel tag, is required to show that the installation was authorized by an engineer based on the temporary nature of the part. According to sources directly involved with the program, no concrete or consistent documentation existed for fasteners on large portions of Dreamliner One.

Without adequate documentation, assembly teams in Everett have had to allocate significant resources for identifying and replacing the temporary fasteners.

The second is the challenge in physically replacing the parts. “Composite only like fasteners installed once,” according to one source working directly with the aircraft.

When it came time to install flightworthy fasteners, the removal of the temporary fasteners damaged some of the composite parts of the aircraft causing time-consuming repairs.

For example, the vertical tail was removed following roll out and reattached on August 26 after undergoing composite repairs.

As of print date, Boeing continues to progress with structural work as Dreamliner One prepares for its flight test program. Wiring and systems installation have not yet begun.

The replacement of the fasteners is an example of the type of “traveled work” that is necessary on Dreamliner One. Because all work has to be documented and accounted for electronically, Boeing has employed the VELOCITY system to track the assembly process. Engineers and mechanics who are working directly with Dreamliner One have found the paperless work environment an impediment to progress.

One veteran engineer put it this way, “Boeing has missed a fundamental element in Lean Manufacturing. When building and assembling the aircraft in VELOCITY, the paperless assembly environment system shouldn’t be something that creates more work for us."

Though the process may be difficult, according to another source working directly with Dreamliner One, “Progress is slow, but steady.”

The third challenge is that when Boeing conceived the global supply chain for the Dreamliner it never envisioned having to assemble a completely bare aircraft with temporary parts in Everett. The sections would arrive stuffed with flightworthy fasteners, systems, ducting, wiring and insulation from Italy, Japan, Kansas and South Carolina. The first Dreamliner arrived completely bare.

Sources say the fastener issue is indicative of a larger fundamental problem in the global supply chain.

“Traceability to the source [of manufacturing] is something that is missing in this program. When you receive a travel tag from a partner and it is written in Japanese with English subtitles it sure makes you wonder if something got lost in translation,” remarked one Boeing engineer.

An assessment by one Boeing veteran engineer of how to avoid these problems in the supply chain was unequivocal,

“Boeing needs to create a server based system that all the partners can log onto and sign off the work they complete. This way when [the part] finally ends up at the next partner or here in Everett, we can see what tasks were not completed. This would also keep any ‘lost in translation’ tags from getting through the system. There has to be a direct line of communication at all levels. You can’t put an aircraft through final assembly in three days in Everett if the documentation takes you three months.”

When approached about this situation, Boeing 787 Communications spokesperson Yvonne Leach declined to comment or provide details in the lead up to a program update late this week.

Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] Commercial Airplanes Chief Scott Carson and 787 Program Manager Mike Bair are hosting a conference call with media, investors and analysts on the morning of September 5th to provide a comprehensive update on progress.

Flightblogger has learned that a delay of first flight will be announced. The specific length of that delay is currently unknown.

Even with a potential delay looming, internally at manufacturing and assembly sites around the United States, sources describe the overall quality of the design as excellent.

“Boeing and its partners have taken on a huge responsibility to their customers and the millions of travelers who fly on their products. To build an aircraft of this caliber you need to build it with the best the aerospace industry can provide. Boeing hired the best minds to design the new 787 and they hired the best minds to put in place a world class lean manufacturing team. The issue has been one of execution.”

However, at sub-assembly plants such as Global Aeronautica in Charleston, less experienced workers whose expertise lie outside of the aerospace industry are being relied upon to assemble and inspect major structural components of the aircraft.

The veteran engineer added, “[Boeing] allowed their partners to use unskilled technicians to build the assemblies. The 787 Dreamliner should be built by the best the aerospace industry has to offer. What seems to have happened here is that Boeing has built a house starting from the roof down. Any time you build anything as complicated as the 787 you need to build a good base and work up from there. All the best engineering and planning are nothing without the skill and dedication of seasoned professionals who give so much of themselves to build what we all hope will one day be the safest and most economical aircraft in the world.”

The veteran engineer concluded, “No problem is insurmountable. This is a wonderful airplane. These problems can be overcome. There has to be a reckoning about the realities of what it will take to ensure that this program gets off the ground safely and successfully.”

36 comments:

adam said...

I wonder how the FAA will be looking at this with regards to the 'pre-certification' of parts, especially if the damage done to components after temp fasteners are taken out and new ones put in is serious enough. My guess, as the article suggests, is that this is just adding lots and lots of time. Boeing will eventually get LN001 out and airworthy, but it is going to take much longer than expected.

If you look around flickr, there are some up close pictures of some of the fasteners, and they do look almost like hex head bolts you would put in your car.

Thanks for the comprehensive report.

Anonymous said...

Jon - Thanks for the update, very thorough. Appreciate your comments. Sounds like the 787 will not be flying until Thanksgiving, any guess?

Anonymous said...

What a major scandal. Boeing Execs have been preaching first flight in September and they must have known the aircraft does not even have wires yet. Ethics at Boeing clearly have not changed!

Some Execs need to be fired and sent to jail for misleading investors. This will add a year to the program imo. Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

"This will add a year to the program"

I sincerely hope you're wrong!

AJSwtlk said...

Go to
http://7-oops-7.blogspot.com/
to vote.

Anonymous said...

How can you now say there are no systems or wires installed when a few blog posts back you were announcing first power-up in the "next 10 days?"

Also, it took AB 9-months from A380 first power-up to first flight. Boeing will need many months as well - 5 at least.

Anonymous said...

When there is only 1% truth in this report, it will be a scandal for boeing.

Anonymous said...

We mostly have been focusing on power on, first flight and first delivery but it's the ramp-up which is the most important. No one who is supposed to care (like airlines or investors) will actually care if there is a slight delay for the first delivery, much less if the first flight occurs a little late. It is suggested that an announcement will be made stating that the first delivery will only slip by a couple months but that Boeing will not be able to ramp up as fast they wanted to because of supply chain issues, leading to a shortfall in the number of aircraft being delivered (up until 2010) compared to the original schedule (only ~50% of the aircraft actually being delivered).

J said...

We mostly have been focusing on power on, first flight and first delivery but it's the ramp-up which is the most important. No one who is supposed to care (like airlines or investors) will actually care if there is a slight delay for the first delivery, much less if the first flight occurs a little late. It is suggested that an announcement will be made stating that the first delivery will only slip by a couple months but that Boeing will not be able to ramp up as fast they wanted to because of supply chain issues, leading to a shortfall in the number of aircraft being delivered (up until 2010) compared to the original schedule (only ~50% of the aircraft actually being delivered).

Anonymous said...

If this report is true, it will take 6-8 more months for LN1 to fly, as they still have to install wiring, systems, and do check-out and ground runs. This fiasco will leave a very bad taste in the FAAs mind about how Boeing is going about things on the 787 program, and they won't be quick to certify it.

Home Depot parts; how stupid and scary is that!

Anonymous said...

The partial loss of configuration control (not maintaining the proper documentation that shows what is and isn't in the airplane) is strangely reminiscent of what happened on the A380 program.

Anonymous said...

Jon: thanks for the lowdown on the temporary fasteners and formal announcement of 1st flight date. Seems from the pictures & description of what's happening with Line number 001, the issue is not just the schedule for the first flight of LN001 but about the whereabouts and schedule for LN002 through 06 and whether they too are held up by the same amount. If LN001 gets out of the way, and the subsequent planes don't have the same issues in the same magnitude, it should be possible to have a "catch up" to get back to the point where all the test birds are in the program. If not, this would put a lot of pressure on the flying program for the certification--much more important than exactly when the first flight is.

Also, the team factories have to start gearing up for real production of planes at Boeing in the first half of 2008 which means the Alenia, Vought, Global Aeronautica, Spirit factories have to be humming pretty soon. So when one steps back to see how all of these things relate/interact, the important issue is whether one can see a way forward with all of these things despite the various issues we are now seeing.

On the date for first flying: probably need 6-8 weeks after the structure is really OK to get all the systems and wiring in. Then can imagine count down activities to flying.

Do you know anything about what Domninic reports that power on date not moved but first flight is? That seems odd to me and not related to fasteners--is something else happening as well?

Anonymous said...

It's beginning to look like the potential negative legal, financial, and PR consequences resulting from the unfolding "Tale of the Potemkin Dreamliner," could make the process of recovering from the "Defense Procurement Scandal of '03" and/or the "Industrialisation Meltdown of '97-98" seem like relative cakewalks.

Leelaw

Anonymous said...

It really sucks.

Anonymous said...

Forget the A350 MK**, the 787 is fast becoming the A380 development saga MKII. And whats even more worrying is the fact that there are C750 orders for the 787 V's C150 for the A380, hence the risk more compensation claims against Boeing if they screw the 787 up.

Anonymous said...

ALL EYES ON TOMORRROWS PRESS CONFERENCE. GREAT INFO, F.B.

Anonymous said...

funnier than the movie 'airplane'!

Anonymous said...

Not to tell tales out of school, but there was a study done in 2004 that actually used the concept of 'perfect storm' to describe to management all the risks involved in simultaneous relaxing along the multitude of axes as this program has been doing.

Perhaps, jon could get someone to tell him about that.

Looks like people knew there were delays coming along the pike (it was not smart to hide this). Was it a good move (sleight of hand) to then bring out the empty shell with the now known (if jon's sources are reporting to us correctly) bad side effects?

Actually, for Boeing to be more open about all this would help stop chewing up the goodwill. How will we know?

Let's be thankful for the new media.

Anonymous said...

One should note that the R&D issues for the 787 are more challenging than reported. If the first flight for the 787 slips to 12/07 or 01/08, the 787 will not receive technical certification until early 2009.

Why?

Because the cold soak trials must be successfully completed during the cold weather test campaign. The aircraft must spend a couple of days in conditions of up to minus 30 degrees Celsius to prove full functionality of all systems under extreme weather conditions. Such trials will include powering up the aircraft, the engines and hydraulic systems after a full 12-hour period at such low temperatures.

The window for 787 cold weather test last until the end of February next year at the latest; that is; if they don't mind doing the cold soak trials in the Antarctic region (!) If Boeing is unable to complete all of the cold weather tests in accordance with EASA and FAA requirements, it would mean the that 787 would not enter into service until Jan/Feb 2009 at the earliest.

Anonymous said...

" ..Carson .. Bair .. September 5th .. a comprehensive update on progress."

I think you've already done it. Your report makes complete sense to me and convincingly explains all the dissension and loose lippage since roll-out. We do love to say I-told-you-so.

This will take more time than some would like but less than others would hope.

Lee

Anonymous said...

I thought Unit 1 was Static Test only...not supposed to fly.

Anonymous said...

The US presently seems to be lost in a haze of marketing hype and over-the-top, effectively meaningless product names, such as the Dreamliner.

However, Boeing does carry a lot of weight as an Original Equipment Manufacturer, and based on its past performance credentials, the company obviously has a lot of clout with it's customers. However, past performance is not necessarily indicative on how a future program will perform; and especially not when the OEM does not follow industrial best-practice recommendations that suggest new product developments should use existing processes and tools, the existing organization and demonstrated technologies.

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Anonymous said...

No wonder Mulally left.

Would this have happened under Harry or Phil? Oh, where are these guys when we need them?

Marketing types always screw up the system and muddy the waters. Necessary evil, though.

Anonymous said...

I'd hardly call McNerney a marketing type.

Anonymous said...

BA, MBA. Not exactly science and engineering.

Anonymous said...

McNerney was president of GE Engines for quite a while and did the deal with Boeing for exclusivity on the 777-200LR and 777-300. He may not be an engineer but he certainly understands the concepts.

Anonymous said...

So, how did this get under his radar?

Anonymous said...

He surrounds himself with YES men like BAIR, and never leaves Chicago.

Anonymous said...

I'm not excited about tomorrow announcement. Boeing isn't going to give any further detail and will only provide the common blah, blah, blah: "We're meeting the 7-8-7 roll-out date and EIS date because we have 11 backup plans," but they didn't say that plan B was a stop in Home Depot for some spare. :)
Just for the record, I think tomorrow we'll only hear the confimation of the sorrounding rumours about LN001.

We know the shortcomings of LN001 and I think we all agree the first flight is going to be delayed by several weeks (we need a pool here) which can potentially affect the EIS date. However, I just cannot stop wondering about the status of the others 3 planes that are going to join LN001 in the certfication campaign, if these planes' first flight would be delay, Boeing would forget about the May-08 promise.

Would you make a report of the status of the other three planes? considering that tomorrow announcement would provide minimun detail to avoid drawing conclusion of what everybody is thinking.

Thank you very much Jon for the report,

NICAflyer

Anonymous said...

The program is in chaos and Boeing better answer the tough questions or they will be ripped a new one in the media.

Anonymous said...

Is it be possible (if the decision was made and implemented) that LN0002 could be completed and ready to fly before LN0001?

Anonymous said...

I was wondering the same thing as the previous post - if LN001 faces such problems, move it out of the way and press ahead with LN002. They could continue to work on LN001 and add it ot the test program when ready. I was at the Boeing plant on 24 Aug and LN001 didn't look like it would be going anywhere for quite a while. Hopefully the news tomorrow will be not as bad as we fear...

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the fear. The whole purpose of the plane is to get from one place to another. Granted, it ought to be purty and comfy.
But, flight is utilitarian, albeit existential, too.
So, given the primary purpose, a focus on providing a worthy craft ought to come before any of the other considerations, such as who looks better.
Some of the Boeing/Airbus little quibbles are childish (playground behavior). Why can't we step up to being adult here? And, Boeing lead the way to maturity.
Boeing management, put your chins out and take the necessary knocks. Quit hiding behind glib manipulations.
Gosh, when you think of it, they've know this for over a year; how can they sleep at night? The engineering manager doesn't sleep due to real considerations (this plane is not an easy task); other managers can't sleep, probably, due to fear of being shown to be naked (kudos to CaptainX of airliners.net).

Also, thanks to jon for the forum.

Anonymous said...

Anyone of importance to Boeing already knows what is going to be briefed tomorrow. That would include exactly none of us typing in this forum. If the news is going to be much more than we already know and an announcement of a bit more delay, you can bet the stock would have reflected that news today, which it didn't (-.78) Lee

Mark Sr. said...

Houston Precision Fasteners has been approved for certain Boeing Fasteners.

Mark Sr. said...

Houston Precison Fasteners has been approved for certain Boeing Fasteners