Collaboration is a necessity for Boeing for several reasons. One is scale: Airplanes are enormous, and enormously complex. "There is not a building big enough to house a project like this," Griffin says. "You cannot do four million parts in the same location." Another reason is political. "We are a global company, and we sell our products globally," he adds. "One thing that helps you sell is that people in other countries are building parts of the airplane. It's not just a product built in Everett, Wash., but a global product." (Airbus, originally a multinational consortium, will soon be building some of its planes in China.)
Boeing also needs to spread the financial risk of the 787 project, says Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at Teal Group Corp., an aerospace and defense research company in Fairfax, Va. "The 787 is hugely promising, and hugely risky, so they have to maximize their use of risk-sharing partners. This plane takes advantage of truly cutting-edge technologies, and there are aircraft in the past that have stumbled on that, like with the Lockheed L1011 that almost destroyed that company." Boeing still takes the hit if the planes fail, but the actual cost of development and manufacturing is spread across its network of collaborators.
Collaborative design that speeds the process also helps Boeing avoid expensive penalties from its customers if the plane is not delivered on time, Aboulafia says, and it gives the company more flexibility in designing the multiple versions of the 787 that are part of its wide-ranging appeal in the marketplace.
Says aerospace analyst Rubel, "On-time delivery is important to hold the customer's trust, to reinforce Boeing's leadership position, and to allow the company to make money. The customer goes through an elaborate process to have its systems and routes and markets ready for the plane and it needs an on-time arrival."
Vought's Broomall says the 787 process is delivering on those needs. "We have probably taken more than one-third to one-half of the time out, and perhaps 50 percent out of development cost versus historical methods," he says.
Meanwhile, Boeing is chasing talent and looking for cost-savings around the world. In addition to its global business partners, Boeing maintains technical research centers in Madrid and Moscow. "We want to use the best and brightest anywhere in the world, and part of our role at Boeing Technology is finding them," Griffin says. "We're seeking Indian ingenuity, or Japanese or British or Italian ingenuity. The mathematicians in Russia are fascinating to talk to, they're trained differently, they think about models and use wind tunnels differently." Different regions do some things better than others, Griffin adds. "A big problem, where there is not a lot of structure, we tend to give to the Russians," he says. "A big problem with lots of structure, and a chance for continuous improvement, we tend to give to India."
Not every job at Boeing can be done by non-U.S. nationals. Defense-related projects, which make up more than one-third of the company's current order backlog, are off-limits to workers without U.S. citizenship or work papers. But wherever possible, Boeing is bringing global talent to bear on its design and manufacturing projects.
Of course, no amount of technology can fully replace the need for face-to-face interaction, Broomall says. "When we do the next projectwe are committed to doing derivative versions of this planethere will be less human contact and more collaboration via IT," he says. "But you still have to have meetings, and maintain relationships, so that you are comfortable that you know the person behind the computer. You can build a new plane from scratch on the computer, but you have to have confidence in the people."
This article was originally published on 03-06-2006