Here is a typical condition many supply chain and manufacturing operational teams find themselves in at the end of a significant quarter or calendar year.  Management declares victory in spite of lingering challenges over a product, because management metrics and bonuses are riding on completing a milestone.  

The case in point is a brief article appearing in today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal which declares that Boeing has met its 2012 delivery goals for customer shipments of its highly visible 787 Dreamliner program.  How did Boeing accomplish this milestone, you inquire? The company handed over 7 of the 787 aircraft to six customers during a 25 hour period, the classic “hockey stick” delivery method.  That must have kept Boeing production and customer acceptance teams rather busy these past few days.

If readers have been following our latest 787 related commentaries on Supply Chain Matters, you would have noticed that this aircraft has had some share of initial unanticipated operational problems. The U.S. Federal Aviation Association (FAA) had previously issued a mandatory airworthiness directive requiring all existing 787 airline operators to inspect fuel couplings in the engine pylons after multiple incidents of fuel leaks.  Four recently delivered 787 aircraft have incurred electrical failures including the failure of a generating unit and problems with the electrical panel. In early December, a new 787 delivered to United Airlines, flying an operational route, had to make an emergency landing because of an electrical generator failure. Another United 787 delivered in October had to be literally taken out of service in order to replace suspected power panel and generator concerns. In July, both Rolls Royce and GE Aircraft engine types supplied with this aircraft had separate incidents of engine faults.

Many senior operations executives in aerospace or capital equipment supply chains might reply that this is business as usual, normal situations when a highly sophisticated, technology laden product is first introduced.  I suppose this author could tolerate that response, a reality that many have come to encounter after many years of supply chain management experience.  But today, products are much more sophisticated and complex, with far more supply chain related dependencies. However, what really gets Supply Chain Matters goat are the public statements that currently emanate from Boeing executives that declare that electrical failure and other such problems are considered normal for a new jetliner.

I suppose if there were statements that instead indicated that the company was working very hard to both respond to and totally resolve initial aircraft operational performance issues, insuring that current production aircraft have been double-checked for similar component issues, and that the company would continue to diligently work with initial delivery customers to monitor any problems, we might have felt better. Perhaps we should assume that this condition exists.

Congrats to the Boeing procurement, production, quality and operations teams for insuring that a management milestone was successfully met, in spite of considerable challenges.

Bob Ferrari