Continuing on this week’s theme of developments in commercial aerospace supply chain, a Puget Sound Business Journal posting this week penned by Steve Wilhelm describes why Boeing is moving slowly and deliberately on ramp-up of production of the newly designed 737 Max aircraft.

According to posting, this week, workers imitated the building of the new 737 Max on the third assembly line at Boeing’s Renton Washington production site.  Boeing 737 Max Production Line

Boeing has elected to separate the production line of the newest model until initial start-up production volumes can ramp to the existing higher volumes of current 737 model production. Current output of 737 production is 42 per month, nearly one a day. Overall production volumes of all 737’s are planned to increase to 47 per month by 2017, and 52 per month by 2018.  According to this latest report, Boeing will gradually transfer the existing two volume lines to 737 MAX aircraft.

The differences in the Max version are noted as more advanced winglets along with larger, heavier, but more fuel efficient engines. The PSBJ commentary indicates that further modifications to the framing of the wings and the front landing gear are called for so that the newer engines will fit.

In a previous Supply Chain Matters commentary in August, we called reader attention to a report that a key supplier within the 737 Max program is currently wrestling with production ramp-up supply issues related to an engine thrust reverser.  Difficulties in consistently manufacturing this part are apparently been flagged by Boeing as a significant development challenge for its commercial aircraft business.

Thus, the strategy for separating production lines to shield ramp-up needs is indeed a wise one.  Boeing’s product design engineering, procurement and supply chain teams continue to work on overcoming expected ramp-up challenges while the “core of the company’s cash generation”, namely the 737, continues with its consistent output mission.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 787 MaxThe maiden flight of the Max is currently planned in early 2016 with the launch customer designated as Southwest Airlines. The current order backlog stands at 2869.

As noted, Boeing gained considerable learning from the mistakes and/or early supply chain snafus of the 787 Dreamliner program.  Even though the Max is not of the changed engineering design scale of the former, methodical planning, proactive identification of potential design and supply issues and careful production ramp-up are all interrelated. It implies a very close relationship and communication among product design and supplier teams.