This is a follow-up to an August Supply Chain Matters commentary highlighting a published report indicating that a key component part production scalability problem had been identified on the Boeing 737 MAX development program. At the time, The Wall Street Journal had reported that that a key supplier within Boeing’s 737 MAX program, United Kingdom based GKN PLC, was challenged with production ramp-up supply issues related to an engine thrust reverser on this new aircraft. Difficulties in use of an advanced titanium based material and consistency in manufacturing output volume were reportedly flagged by Boeing as a significant development challenge for its commercial aircraft business. However, at the time, Boeing indicated every confidence that GKN would be up to the task of volume production.
This week, the WSJ reported that nearly three months later, Boeing has now canceled its engine thrust reverser supply contract with GKN. Further reported was that a change in the component part design that would more readily support high ramp-up volumes of production was underway. A Boeing spokesperson indicated: “We made this decision to ensure we have a product that is not only maintainable and reliable but is producible at the high production rates of the 737 program.”
With a current order backlog approaching 3000 aircraft, Boeing must meet its time-to-market output objectives. It further appears that Boeing has translated learning from the 787 Dreamliner program where advanced technology, such as the lithium ion batteries led to aircraft groundings and production delays, and volume production of composite carbon fiber airframe components led to overall program delays. Instead, it would appear that Boeing is taking precise actions to readily identify design for supply chain challenges as quickly as possible.
As we noted in August, the fact that the design of the new thrust reverser was flagged for production volume capability assessment, two years before planned first customer ship, is indeed a good sign of proactive and decisive program management.