Bottlenecks at Boeing. Operations Clash with Finance?

Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed

Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed

Reuters is bringing an interesting article (h/t Cameron Zuroff) about operational issues and financial pressures at Boeing (NYSE:BA).

Boeing is struggling to cope with the 787 production schedule, after the production ramp up to 10 planes per month late last year. The bottleneck seems to be fuselage complex wiring done in their South Carolina plant. But the bigger picture is that Boeing has committed to deliver 10 planes per month and missing the schedule would involve steep penalties. What does Boeing do? They send half ready components to the factory at Everett for rework and final assembly.

To me this is an example of clash between operations and financial goals:

Boeing’s ability to churn out the Dreamliner is crucial to its financial performance this year as the company is relying on commercial jetliners to offset a weak defense business. While Boeing still loses money on each 787 that it builds, it gets closer to breaking even as production increases.

Cash flow from the 787 is expected to improve next year, provided the factories stay on pace, Boeing said. The cash is needed to fund new plane development, as well as fulfill investors’ desire for share buybacks and dividends.

Clearly, Boeing is between a rock and a hard place. They try to ramp up capacity in South Carolina, hire temporary workers, but that leads to higher cost, further delaying the break even point. Sending “pre-routed” components to Everett, is also a questionable move. From the classical quality management standpoint, defects should be fixed immediately after they are detected. Unless there is an excess capacity at Everett that would allow to finish work quicker than it would have been done in South Carolina, sending half ready components would only delay the production.

One thing is evident. Learning curve for the new 787 production turned out to be steeper than originally thought. All the pressure is now on Boeing to catch up with it.

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2 thoughts on “Bottlenecks at Boeing. Operations Clash with Finance?

  1. Really interesting, makes anyone who travels a little nervous if production is rushed. I wonder if the cost of hiring temporary workers ends up saving the company money in the long run. Definitely will look into this more.

  2. It is very obvious that Boeing is having capacity issues. It seems that, given Boeing’s current situation, its goal to produce 10 planes per month is very ambitious and perhaps unreasonable to ensure quality and no defects. As learned in class, statistical process control cannot be used because a defect can cost hundreds of lives. It is also interesting how Boeing repeatedly loses money on the sale of its 787s. I am wondering how it could improve its production capabilities to minimize costs and eventually make a profit. It does not appear to be efficient to send parts of a plane from one production facility to another to complete its production.

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