August 2012

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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.”

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