Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Excessive Modularity Hindered Development of the 787

Unknown Lamer posted about a year and a half ago | from the why-pay-engineers dept.

Businesses 200

TAGmclaren writes "The Harvard Business Review is running a fascinating article exploring the issues facing Boeing's Dreamliner. Rather than simply blaming outsourcing, as much of the commentary has been focused on, the article delves into the benefits of integration and how being integrated when developing a new product gives engineers more degrees of freedom. From the article: 'Historically, Boeing understood that, and had worked with its subcontractors on that basis. If it was going to rely on them, it would provide them with detailed blueprints of the parts that were required — after Boeing had already created them. That, in turn, meant that Boeing had to design all the relevant pieces of the puzzle itself, first. But with the 787, it appears that Boeing tried a very different approach: rather than having the puzzle solved and asking the suppliers to provide a defined puzzle piece, they asked suppliers to create their own blueprints for parts. The puzzle hadn't been properly solved when Boeing asked suppliers for the pieces. It should come as little surprise then, that as the components came back from far-flung suppliers, for the first plane ever made of composite materials... those parts didn't all fit together. Time and cost blew out accordingly. It's easy to blame the outsourcing. But, in this instance, it wasn't so much the outsourcing, as it was the decision to modularize a complicated problem too soon.'"

cancel ×

200 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

No specs? (4, Insightful)

BVis (267028) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737255)

So Boeing told the contractors what they needed to build, but didn't give them hard specifications? What the hell? Two things:

Boeing needs to have their collective asses kicked for doing it this way, and:
The subcontractors should never have agreed to the work without specs first.

The first one is probably the result of Boeing not wanting to spend the engineering dollars to develop the blueprints, and the second is due to the enormous amounts of money involved in making the parts.

Now that I know this, you'll never catch me on one of those abominations. What the hell was Boeing thinking?

Re:No specs? (4, Insightful)

bunratty (545641) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737341)

No, the problem wasn't no specs. The problem was that the system was designed on paper first, without actually building it. Then the specs for the individual pieces were created, and those individual modules were built from the specs. The idea was that then the parts were completed, they would be integrated and work perfectly together. Of course, that never happens because when the pieces come together for the first time, unanticipated problems occur. This is why early integration [ibm.com] is a good idea and is part of the philosophy of release early, release often [wikipedia.org] .

Re:No specs? (2)

vakuona (788200) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737451)

Completely agreed. Now, I know that making a phone is not the same as making a plane, but when Apple creates a new iPhone, they make the whole thing in the US first, test it, refine it, then ask manufacturers to build it to specs they know will work.

Maybe such a development process would be too expensive for a plane, I don't know, but it sure makes it easy to figure out what isn't working properly.

Any manufacturer worth their salt (and Boeing is one) should be able to fully prototype their product prior to outsourcing bits of its production (except for things like batteries). But any parts that needs to fit together very precisely should be prototyped first.

Re:No specs? (0, Troll)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738163)

apple is not special in this.

in fact, apple does less than boeing did in this. apple shops around for parts and fits those parts together, then doesn't test if it works when holding it wrong and orders it to be assembled in mass.

in this case boeing outsourced the design of the parts, after knowing what the parts should do. how that is not an outsourcing problem I don't understand. after doing that they prototyped it(built the first models).

Re:No specs? (2)

BVis (267028) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737459)

I stand corrected. Maybe I should read linked articles first..

But, I still think it was a case of being penny wise and pound foolish. If I read you correctly, they saved some money by not building the prototype themselves, but then got bit on the ass by the fact that that's a really bad idea and lost money in the long run. Typical corporate thinking. If it costs less TODAY, then that's what you do.

Re:No specs? (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738147)

yes you should...

at the end they talk about how management from McDonnel Douglas was possibly to blame because in the takeover several "top" people from McD took over the top posts at Boeing, and these guys had the defence contractor mentality where you spend a little amount on R&D and expect the DoD to keep on handing cash over to you regularly until you can't milk it any longer. That meant that tried to cost-cut as much of the design as possible up front.

I think it says a lot about defence spending than it does premature modularisation.

Re:No specs? (5, Informative)

idontgno (624372) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737489)

This.

I'm a systems engineer, which means that integration is pretty much the only reason my job exists... for projects (hardware/software/everything) which are too big to continuously integrate. Projects that are modularized by design, and very often subcontracted as well.

If the first time you're integrating your product is the first production run, you're too late. You should have had a prototype. You should treat the first production samples AS prototypes. (The wisdom of the "never buy the zero revision of anything" is in this.)

But, yeah, that's expensive. It's cheaper to assume that every subassembly will be perfectly built to perfect specifications, and that interfaces just magically happen, and that integration is just sticking the pieces together and turning a few screws.

Training (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737673)

I'm a systems engineer,

Off-topic - what's your education and training?

Re:Training (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42738277)

I am not the GP but I have a master degree in electrical engineering with specialization in systems engineering. I'd guess such a specialization also exist for mechanical and aeronautics engineers.

I have never worked in my specialty and drifted into embedded systems but my professors and lecturers had vast systems engineering experience in the fields of automotive, space and weapon systems.

Re:No specs? (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737973)

In Appliances, we prototyped, had test samples of new parts build from the production molds, built models for test and test the bejesus out of them. THEN we had two test production runs, tested the heck out of samples of THOSE, then released for production.

Re:No specs? (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737613)

When it comes to mechanical parts, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing is a solved problem. When it comes to electrical interoperability, one'd think that's a solved problem as well. Someone, or many someones at Boeing and/or at the subcontractors don't know their engineering, that's all.

Re:No specs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737757)

Well there is a difference between theory and practice

Re:No specs? (1)

N0Man74 (1620447) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737833)

Well there is a difference between theory and practice

At least in theory.

Re:No specs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737981)

No, only in practice.

Re:No specs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42738169)

As an old instructor of mine used to say:

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is."

Bad drawings are the rule not the exception (5, Informative)

sjbe (173966) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738043)

When it comes to mechanical parts, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing is a solved problem. When it comes to electrical interoperability, one'd think that's a solved problem as well.

"Solved problem"? HAAHAHAHHHAAHHAAAAA....

You don't manufacture things for a living do you? I run a company that makes wire harnesses. We're a contract manufacturer - we don't design things, we just take prints and build what is on the prints. I can count on my fingers on one hand the number of prints we have gotten from customers which were correct and sufficiently detailed such that the product could be built without asking any questions. There pretty much always are critical details left out of the prints. About 2/3 of the prints we see have incompatible parts specified. About half are missing at least one important dimension such as length. About 10% have missing parts and about 25% have incompatible parts. About 20% specify needlessly expensive parts like gold plated terminals that cost more but provide no actual performance benefit. Most of them leave off at least one critical tolerance. I've even seen drawings with dimension in inches and tolerances in metric.

Why does this happen? For the most part because an alarming number of engineers doing the drawings aren't actually very good at their job. Some of them are just plain lazy. The electrical engineers usually can specify a wire schematic but often have no idea whether something can actually be built or know much about industry standards. The more mechanical engineers (yes mechanical engineers can and do design circuits) tend to create bad designs and specify the wrong parts because they don't know any better. Sometimes they are trying to do a good job but they don't bother to consult manufacturing during the design process and they come up with a stupid design or something that is impossible to build.

I have run into some good engineers but they are the exception.

Re:Bad drawings are the rule not the exception (2)

reub2000 (705806) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738197)

One would hope that when designing a $200M machine with the lives of 240 depending on it working properly, that you would hire the exceptions.

Re:Bad drawings are the rule not the exception (2)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738213)

I do manufacture things, and it took me 10 years to figure out how to spec things out so that the techs make exactly what I want. The technical problem is solved. The human problem maybe isn't. Human is in having competent engineers. I'd have thought aerospace companies are better than someone who has no clue and a decade to learn it on his own, with nobody else to talk to.

Re:No specs? (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737639)

This is why early integration is a good idea and is part of the philosophy of release early, release often

For software, sure ... but when you're talking about physical things, "release early release often" falls apart.

With something like a 787, you'd sure as heck never be able to do things like that.

By the time you have your first version, you expect to be able to put a pilot into it and at least taxi it around and look at flying.

Rapid release cycles of partly completed software is fine, but it just doesn't apply to an aircraft I don't think. In software, we know we'll release shit intermediate versions only meant for us -- I don't think you can do that with an aircraft.

Re:No specs? (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738053)

It doesn't apply to anything large and non-physical (like software). You should carefully plan, measure, build, prototype, and only AFTER all this is done, release something.

Releasing something half finished that isn't software typically means a failure of epic proportions. You can't easily fix something that is already built in real world. Only software is easily fixable via patches. In real world, flaws in build can mean anything from having to fully disassemble your build item to actually having to dump whatever it is you built and starting from scratch.

Re:No specs? (1)

alexgieg (948359) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737925)

Of course, that never happens because when the pieces come together for the first time, unanticipated problems occur.

This, IMHO, is also the central difference between science and engineering, and why the former doesn't translate directly into the later. A scientific theory describes a sequence of causes and effects that's valid for an isolated system. So, while every theory can be absolutely true within its experimental constraints, the moment you take more than one and try to make both work together, all those ignored parameters start showing their ugly heads. Or, put another way:

* Scientific Basis: Theory_1, Theory_2, Theory_3, ...
* Naively Engineered Stuff: Theory_1 + Theory_2 + Theory_3 + ... + Huge_WTF

Refined theories, computer models and tons upon tons of practice can ease the whole endeavor a lot, so that with a team of experience engineers it becomes something more like this:

* Wisely Engineered Stuff: Theory_1 + Theory_2 + Known_WTF_1_2 + Theory_3 + Known_WTF_1_3 + Known_WTF_2_3 + Known_Extra_WTF_1_2_3 + Theory_4 + ... + Remaining_WTF

That last bit, however, will be there no matter what, and you'll only figure it out by actually building the damn thing and iterating over it, no two ways about it.

Re:No specs? (1)

AC-x (735297) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737933)

No, the problem wasn't no specs. The problem was that the system was designed on paper first, without actually building it. Then the specs for the individual pieces were created, and those individual modules were built from the specs. The idea was that then the parts were completed, they would be integrated and work perfectly together. Of course, that never happens because when the pieces come together for the first time, unanticipated problems occur. This is why early integration [ibm.com] is a good idea and is part of the philosophy of release early, release often [wikipedia.org].

Isn't that how all modern airliners are created? I'm trying to remember a documentary about the development of the A380, IIRC the entire thing was designed in CAD, the factories were then tooled and the first plane was created from parts from the same production line as the production run would come from.

Now it's a little different with Airbus as they manufactured most parts in their own factories, but I can't see how it would be economically practical to create a completely bespoke prototype aeroplane of the size and complexity of the 787, and even if they did the custom made parts are likely to differ slightly from the parts that eventually role off production. You certainly can't apply "release early, release often" software development methodologies to giant manufacturing projects like this!

Re:No specs? (3, Interesting)

OzPeter (195038) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738067)

Isn't that how all modern airliners are created? I'm trying to remember a documentary about the development of the A380, IIRC the entire thing was designed in CAD, the factories were then tooled and the first plane was created from parts from the same production line as the production run would come from.

The Airbus also suffered from manufacturing problems as the German and Spanish facilities were using a different version of the CATIA CAD tool than the English and French facilities. This resulted in hilarity when modules from different locations did not mate as intended.

Re:No specs? (1)

Luckyo (1726890) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738083)

It's economically practical once you consider the costs of failure if you do not.

Re:No specs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42738061)

It wasn't a technical problem at all. Purely management screwup.
All the outsourcing was done do drastically cut costs, and if they would have even cared a little, just a glance at Airbus would have shown them, that while it has some advantages, one of the primary problems is efficiency and quality.
Airbus had years to develop it's supply chains, had them in place before the 380 was started, Boeing on the other hand ... got greedy. Very greedy.

Re:No specs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737353)

After R'ing TFA, it seems to be a bit more nuanced that that.

Boeing believed they had the specs complete. But the never actually built the plane to those specs to see if it worked. So, the specs were blindly chopped up and handed out to contractors. After that, contractors came back reporting problems and Boeing had to re-spec and notify all affected contractors. Lather, rinse, repeat until something that looks like a plane eventually comes together.

The core of the article is: If you're doing something difficult and new, do it yourself first then outsource production later. Don't just send your design out to contractors and cross your fingers.

Re:No specs? (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737401)

I actually logged in for this response...

Do you REALLY think that is accurate? Do you really think Boeing put the plane together with a bunch of non-spec'd parts? Do you really think that a plane would get off the ground with that type of engineering? Seriously?

An MBA put his two cents together and came up with a penny and you bought it. Most likely there was a lot of back and forth over specification early in the project as prototypes were being built. That does not translate into substandard final designs.

The 787 is cutting edge and the result of some seriously advanced engineering. I would think Slashdot of all places would appreciate that.

Re:No specs? (1)

BVis (267028) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737507)

Do you REALLY think that is accurate? Do you really think Boeing put the plane together with a bunch of non-spec'd parts? Do you really think that a plane would get off the ground with that type of engineering? Seriously?

I think that if the bean counters decided that was a good idea, and gave it to the engineers to work on with inadequate support, it's possible that the engineers, being responsible and ethical, made the impossible happen through serious overwork.

If I understand bunratty's response above, it sounds like there were never any prototypes actually built.

Re:No specs? (2)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737899)

Aside from the intent of the article, Boeing did indeed put together the first 787 with non-specced parts - in their haste to make the 07-08-2007 roll out date (7-8-7), Boeing failed to order aviation grade fasteners with enough lead time from their suppliers and they literally had to buy a batch from your every day DIY store, and replace them at great cost and effort afterward. One of the reasons the first four 787s have been written off and will never be sold (the original intent was to sell all the certification fleet to customers).

Re:No specs? (1)

wjsteele (255130) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738191)

I'm not sure where you got that information, but the only problem with the fasteners on the 787 had nothing to do with where they got them... as they are custom designed for this application. It had everything to do with the way they were installed. The problem was that the fasteners were not installed per the specification which caused them to have less holding power than the specifications said.

Those fasteners were designed to hold the composite components to the titanium sub structure, and even in their weakened state were still more than the 1.5x strength factor required. And they NEVER bought them from the hardware store... no hardware store on earth would stock that specific component.

Bill

Re:No specs? (1)

ledow (319597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737421)

Boeing, maybe.

But if the subcontractors did what was asked (just that what was asked wasn't precisely what was required), then they've done their job. Changes after the initial sign-off, even though your product matches the specs originally given? That's going to cost you big time.

And every time you change one, you affect all the other contractors and their changes affect you and so on. Hence costs spiral, and you end up with something that may not even be fit for purpose. But, hey, at least you can blame the contractors for not delivering a working final product, even though they did exactly what was asked.

Just ask the UK NHS IT contractors how that all works.

Re:No specs? (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737527)

rather than having the puzzle solved and asking the suppliers to provide a defined puzzle piece, they asked suppliers to create their own blueprints for parts. The puzzle hadn't been properly solved when Boeing asked suppliers for the pieces.

Using some computer science-lite language their design and physical parts "networks" used to be a hub-n-spoke topology. That has always worked pretty well. This time around they tried something like a fully connected mesh for design (because in real world engineering, unlike CS, practically everything affects everything) but they maintained the hub-n-spoke topology for physical parts. There's a bit of a mismatch there.

I believe the hope -n- dream was forcing the subs to mesh with every other sub would result in outsourcing that huge design workload to the subs, on the assumption the subs:
1) Could do it (uhhhh commissioned salesperson says yes, R+D says no Fing way)
2) Would want to do it, hoping taking the hit during design means they'll get production contracts (vs telling Boeing to F off and hoping for airbus subcontracts instead)

So what happens when you make the leap of faith that your subcontractors will care more about your product than apparently you do? Well, it isn't pretty.

There's also a hubris effect. Lets try new tech throughout an entire plane AND a completely new R+D model at the same time. What could go wrong? Now if they were doing R+D for something really "boring" like yet another generic mp3 player, or yet another water heater, the new development experiment probably would have worked. Or if they tried a mostly new technology plane with the traditional development process, it probably would have worked. But both at the same time? In a price sensitive commercial market (unlike .mil or .gov contracts) ? Not looking good. The company might survive, it might even turn out OK in the end, but its kinda like picking up nickles in front of a steamroller, just not wise at all.

Re:No specs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737551)

Having lived for over 5 years in Japan, I doubt the Japanese subcontractors would build anything without clear specifications.

Re:No specs? (4, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737789)

Having lived for over 5 years in Japan, I doubt the Japanese subcontractors would build anything without clear specifications.

The problem is the toilet seat bracket had to be made 1/10 mm thicker for supersized passengers, and that was properly annotated by the seat mfgr on blueprint revision #24352. Unfortunately the news never reached the design engineers for the landing gear who need to adjust blueprint revision #7652 foward by 2 mm

My extensive experience with electronic design is if the Chinese say they'll give you a container full of old fashioned thru hole 1K resistors at a tenth of a penny each or whatever they will in fact do so. Maybe they painted the resistor color code with lead paint and the assembly line workers are political prisoners, but the resistance and power dissipation specs will be more or less as per the data sheet. And you can talk the Indonesians into providing a container full of microwave medium power bipolar transistors with a Pd of one watt and a Ft of 25 GHz for two bucks each and they will in fact do it. But god help you if you tell both of them, "I'd like a class A biased driver amp assembly so you two kids cooperate mkay?" Now multiply that by one zillion subcontractors all operating more or less without adult oversight by design to save money as a new project management technique, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

"I've got an idea, lets improve the obvious metrics, then you little guys can work together to design and build it which will make me a bunch of money, mkay?" That stuff doesn't fly.

Re:No specs? (1)

catchblue22 (1004569) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737615)

This gives yet more evidence of the flawed nature of the MBA ideology of management methods being independent from the technical processes of what is actually being managed. There is no substitute for hard won knowledge slogging through the real details of industrial processes. I have said it before, and I'll say it again: the cult-like ideology of MBA managers is driving America into the ground.

Re:No specs? (1)

shadowrat (1069614) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737705)

sounds like agile aeronautics to me. You hear these horror stories all the time. Now the problem isn't with the methodology, it's in the execution. You need the client 100% on board with the process. You need to stick to your scrums. You need to add new functionality requests to the pool and allow your timeline to shift.

Re:No specs? (1)

CaptNoobius (2828637) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737737)

Nope -- that's not how it works...... For the past decade at least, Airframers/Assemblers such as Boeing bring suppliers on-sight during what they typically refer to Joint Definition Phase. Essentially this is when the aircraft subsystem specifications are developed. the suppliers are on site through at least critical design review and work side by side with Boeing engineers to develop system level and component level specifications. Often times this is even before a contract has been awarded to the suppliers... Reasons for this: 1) Benefit to Boeing... they get a specification that they know can be produced and they get the expertise of the suppliers. Avionic engineers know avionics, etc. 2) Benefit to Suppliers... they know when the specification goes out to bid for contract, it is in a form of which they can meet and competitively bid on it. Often times there is more than one supplier for a particular component or system working with the airframer to keep things competitive. Been this way for at least a decade..... those on the automotive side know the same drill.

Re:No specs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42738151)

"What the hell was Boeing thinking?"
Well I wasn't there but I imagine it was something along the lines of this:

"Airbus has us by the balls we are losing market share every year. We need to do something. But we don't have too much money with the aquisition of Mc Donnel and all. Still we need to come up with a killer plane to turn the tide".

So I guess the modular approach was a way to develop a plane for which they didn't have the money.

Unfortunatelly their gamble seems to have worked. Yes the plane was late (but which plane isn't?) and it has some serious issues but in the end it will make Boeing rich.

I say 'unfortunatelly' because I think it goes against a good safety culture and it give the beancounters more arguments to develop planes with a budget that is too low. Of course the fact that I'm from Belgium and a huge Airbus fan has nothing to do with it ;-)

Let's just hope that Airbus does create a plane with similar characteristics but does not loose the grip on the total design (to which they were already pretty close with the A480).

first post (1)

ProzakLord (1087161) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737261)

Yeah baby!!

Re:first post (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737479)

don't look up

I'm no expert but (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737265)

I'm pretty sure the 787 wasn't "the first plane ever made of composite materials". The first BIG plane maybe, but not the first plane.

Generic modularity is a good approach. (2)

pecosdave (536896) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737277)

I suspect that with the mindset of a government contractor they told a bunch of different places sort of what they wanted, but not where it had to be or what it was going to plug into. Measurements, plugs, protocol standards, bolt holes, shape - they all matter - and "on a plane" doesn't answer most of the questions.

Re:Generic modularity is a good approach. (1)

MadKeithV (102058) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737517)

I suspect that with the mindset of a government contractor they told a bunch of different places sort of what they wanted, but not where it had to be or what it was going to plug into. Measurements, plugs, protocol standards, bolt holes, shape - they all matter - and "on a plane" doesn't answer most of the questions.

Yes - everything matters - for a completely new system more than you will ever get right on paper without actually putting the whole thing together in the first place. Like the article says: many of the problems you will encounter during development are impossible to anticipate.

Interesting problem (3, Insightful)

astralagos (740055) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737289)

Systems design in engineering basically involves drawing a box around a bunch of parts and saying "this is a system". The interfaces after that are hopefulyl clean -- good systems design does that, but implicit in the choice of a system breakdown is efficiency loss. I might not, for example, think about the fact that the giant engine at the heart of my car could also run heating. There's this long term conflict in engineering between the need to abstract, which enables all forms of delegation, including outsourcing, subcontracting and even building teams, and the loss of efficiency. Good engineers learn things at an almost inexpressible level,developing jargons for the systems under their purview -- in the case of Boeing, there was literally one guy who was their expert on cabling. If you wanted to submit a drawing change, he could envision the change in the cabling of the plane and whether the change was physically possible. That's always been the bane of system abstraction - you find these things that have to cross systems and, if you don't recognize them early enough, they come back to bite you in all sorts of creative ways. Kelly Johnson was a big believer in this. His rules for skunkworks explicitly required that engineers had to be within a specific number of feet of the shop floor -- that way they weren't too divorced from the reality of the products they were making. You see this in the design of a lot of the early computer systems as well, parts bolted together in weird ways before we started developing this high-level view of what systems actually made up a computer.

Re:Interesting problem (1)

fermion (181285) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737433)

Exactly what I was thinking. The issue is not modularity, but not defining interfaces. Modularity is nothing new, and I don't think there is anything wrong with the approach. The overall system, however, has to be defined. I can't imagine that Boeing did not do this. I suspect the pieces that did not fit together was mostly an issue of quality control and cost. For instance, I recently bought a long micro USB cable. The specs for the interface, the microB USB connector are well documented and any competent manufacturer should be able to make this product. However, the connector is not made properly and therefore does not work. Do I blame the people who make the USB standard? No, I blame shoddy workmanship and my desire to buy the cheapest cable possible.

Re:Interesting problem (1)

rndmtim (664101) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737669)

Their modularity was set up to fail. I actually worked on a project for Boeing two years ago that was not Dreamliner related - ITAR protected so all I can vaguely say is it was a novel motor design for a crucial component that my former research adviser at RPI was the lead on. We were backfitting our new design into an existing motor compartment. As we got past the basic design, they then wanted an actual prototype to fit in a specific cavity, with some very specific power, speed, heat dissipation requirements and so on. We needed to match things like the mating spline, and we also needed our motor to lock into the existing space perfectly. Boeing did not own the original design, did not have access to the actual dimensions of the original motor - and the vendor in question didn't want to give the dimensions and was largely successful at saying no on this because it was their IP. Now granted we were academics working on something non-critical to their immediate success, but that tells you how far this process has gone for them in the wrong direction...

This is what happens with subcontracting (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737297)

This is what happens with subcontracting you give up to much control and people in the contracting line cut corners where they can.

Lithium batteries considered dangerous (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737317)

The reality is -- nobody knows how Lithium batteries actually work. We just know that they work. And they spontaneously combust. Stay away from electric cars and airplanes if they use lithium batteries.

Re:Lithium batteries considered dangerous (3, Interesting)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737495)

Elon Musk of Tesla Motors agrees with the un-safeness of these batteries.

..." Musk, who has run Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] for several years, laid out his thoughts on battery design in a detailed e-mail to the website Flightglobal.

In it, he termed the architecture of the GS Yuasa battery packs supplied to Boeing "inherent unsafe," and predicted more fires from the same causes due to its design.

Specifically, Musk criticized the use of large-format lithium-ion cells "without enough space between them to isolate against the cell-to-cell thermal domino effect."

He also noted that when thermal runaway occurs in the larger cells, more energy is released by the single cell than comes from a small-format "commodity" cell, of the type used by the thousands in Tesla battery packs.

And he went on to highlight what he viewed as the dangers of batteries using those large-format cells, saying they have a "fundamental safety issue" because it's harder to keep the internal temperature of a large-format cell consistent from the center to the edges.

Not surprisingly, Mike Sinnett--Boeing's chief engineer for the 787 project--counters that the company designed the pack to cope with not only a single cell failure but to contain runaway thermal events as well."

http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1082007_tesla-ceo-musk-boeing-787-batteries-inherently-unsafe [greencarreports.com]

Re:Lithium batteries considered dangerous (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737601)

Elon Musk of Tesla Motors who has offered to sell batteries to Boeing agrees with the un-safeness of these competitors batteries.

..." Musk, who has run Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] for several years, laid out his thoughts on his company's battery design is better in a detailed marketing e-mail to the website Flightglobal.

There you go, a bit of clarification for you.

Re:Lithium batteries considered dangerous (2)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737635)

TLDR scalability issue due to cubed vs square law scaling.

High temperature can blow up some Li cells. The total thermal energy scales with volume, but the surface heat can escape from scales with surface area. So its hard (although not impossible) for one cell in a laptop to blow up the adjacent cells. But if you make the individual cells big enough you can get a chain reaction going.

This is a meta issue anyway. There are battery techs not susceptible to chain reactions, and not susceptible to occasionally blowing up an individual cell anyway.

Lets say you decide to make mousepads out of fissionable plutonium. Boss reports that they're getting bad PR because of mfgr variations or mishandling sometimes the plutonium mousepad blows up, although you tried to design it for a very unfavorable geometry. Well you can argue geometry and mfgr tolerances all day, but the mistake was making the mousepad out of plutonium, not making it "wrong".

Re:Lithium batteries considered dangerous (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737649)

Well, demonstrably it didn't contain much because there was smoke on board. Containment means the battery dies, and outside, apart from lost functionality, nothing bad happens. Smoke is kind of a no-no.

C'mon, losers, we solved this in the 70's! (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737331)

Obviously, Boeing should simply have specified that all the contractors deliver components that accept and output plaintext, and then used pipes and awk to cobble the pieces together into a working system! What could possibly go wrong?

Re:C'mon, losers, we solved this in the 70's! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737491)

Obviously, Boeing should simply have specified that all the contractors deliver components that accept and output plaintext, and then used pipes and awk to cobble the pieces together into a working system! What could possibly go wrong?

Battery fire.

Re:C'mon, losers, we solved this in the 70's! (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738167)

Obviously, Boeing should simply have specified that all the contractors deliver components that accept and output plaintext, and then used pipes and awk to cobble the pieces together into a working system! What could possibly go wrong?

Battery fire.

Nah, just add a battery fire error message. We've been doing that with printers for decades.

This is what happens... (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737335)

... when you are a big top secret defense contractor and you attempt to unify your development processes across all of your business units to "save money" through homogenization.

You can design something as an "interconnected series of black boxes" when it's something simple like a missile.

A 787 and other development abortions like the F22 and F35 are infinitely more complex than a simple war munition, and cannot be properly designed as an "interconnected series of black boxes."

Re:This is what happens... (3, Interesting)

Wilf_Brim (919371) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738241)

This. If you get the the bottom of TFA you see what really was driving the decisions about how to design and produce the 787. At the time of the critical decisions for the 787 the head honchos at Boeing were not really Boeing people (a corporation where the key competency for the last 60 years has been the production of profitable commercial airliners.) They came from McDonnell-Douglas, whose key competency was more in the production of military aircraft. The development process of current military hardware is intolerably broken. The old method of subcontracting the design of subsystems and then trying to get them to work together, then just getting more money from Uncle Sam when the result didn't work now results in the aforementioned F22 and F35 (the latter of which may never enter volume production, or at least some variants may not) because complexities have expanded, and costs have likewise increased exponentially. As it turns out, you can't do that with civilian airliners. There aren't friendly Senators and Representatives (whom you have paid off with campaign contributions and subcontractors in their district) to give you more money. And friendly Generals and Admirals (whom are expecting 6 and 7 figure jobs when they retire) who will accept your explanations why things aren't working correctly, and why it's going to be another 3 years to get their gizmo, which doesn't work quite as anticipated. You have shareholders who expect profit, airlines who expect a product in line with what they ordered and expect to pay, and regulators who do not take kindly to aircraft whose electronics bays burst into flames at odd times.

Hmm...question? (1)

Shoten (260439) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737337)

By "hindered development," do they mean "made it harder?" If so...fucking duh. That's what happens when you try a new approach to building something...but that's not necessarily a reason not to innovate, and the fact that mistakes were made isn't necessarily an indictment of the activities that took place in the course of that innovation.

Coming up with a new way of building a large commercial airliner is not going to be easy, and you're going to make mistakes. The article seems a little light on details; I don't buy the notion that Boeing simply told their subcontractors, without any details whatsoever, to build components. I would wager that the real truth is that the subcontractors were given specifications with regard to specific points of integration, but that Boeing underestimated the potential to stay within those specs and still deliver a component that was incompatible with the surrounding area of the aircraft. Whoops, mistake...but you make mistakes when you innovate, and then you learn and move forward. This article seems to imply that Boeing has no idea how to build aircraft at all, and that's just not true.

Groundbreaking Engineering Achievement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737343)

It is very easy to criticize the 787 and its development plan. It was a very bold business and engineering project and necessitated some very risky decision making. In many ways Boeing threw out everything it knew about manufacturing planes to use new materials that would give it a dramatic advantage over its competition. Management basically staked their company's long-term viability to this one massive project spanning more than a decade.

The project was visionary and most companies wouldn't have had the balls to pull the trigger. In my mind, the question wasn't whether some things would go wrong but how many. You don't push the bleeding edge without making some errors. If those errors can be contained and damages mitigated, wonderful.

So now we get some folks with 20:20 hindsight saying that management approach x caused problem y. My response: no crap. Every approach results in some problem. But if Boeing tried an integrated approach there would have been a whole slew of other problems including a lack of accountability and transparency.

Boeing has figured out a lot of engineering problems through this project and has changed the way planes of the future will be built. They should be commended for this. There are new industries that have been and are being built around these new manufacturing process. Boeing will take the pains of being on the front of this, but will also get the rewards as well. Let the 'analysts' have their fun, but they are not the ones taking the risk and changing the world.

-- MyLongNickName

Engineering (3, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737385)

Boeing didn't want to hire all the engineers needed to design the 787. So when they outsourced these subsystems they also counted on their suppliers to do the engineering of these subsystems.

The problem is that engineers are not fungible. Boeing didn't appreciate this, any more than the software industry did when it started outsourcing.

An aerospace structural frame engineer is not the same thing as a marine structure engineer. There are huge differences in the body of experience despite the fact that they both use the same tools.

This was the primary cause of the delays Boeing had. It will continue to be a problem for anyone who tries this sort of outsourcing.

Re:Engineering (2)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737689)

The batteries are small. They should have simply swapped them out for a tad heavier and larger Ni-MH units. They went to unproven technology for savings of tens of kilograms and tens of liters of volume over the whole plane. They are stupid. That's all. There's a point where the savings are too small to risk a whole new battery tech. It's not an all-electric plane where it'd be a big deal. Those batteries are relatively small, relatively light, and don't need such a level of optimization and risk taking.

Re:Engineering (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737823)

NiMH batteries will never be airworthy. Sorry. The options are Lead Acid and Gell Cell Lead Acid.

Re:Engineering (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738003)

Why? Assuming its a technical thing rather than a bunch of economic handwaving.

LiFe is deployed in general aviation and aviation grade batts are COTS from the usual aerospace suspects. I read up on that battery system yesterday, apparently that specific chemistry is pretty tough and something about a ceramic cell separator

Too many MBAs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737387)

This is what happens when you have too many MBAs in charge who think that enginneering experience is also modular and can be replaced. Ironically it is really the MBAs who are the most modular and expendable.

Crowd-sourced design? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737393)

Wow, they crowd-sourced the design of a wide body aircraft?

So it's their reputation on the line, and likely a lot of the legal liability .. but they gave the suppliers reign to design their own parts?

That sounds like an epic fail in engineering to me. The 777 was a marvel in that every part had been designed and modeled in a computer before they ever built anything -- this sounds like a hodge-podge of parts.

At around $200 million a pop or so, that sounds awfully risky.

So it was outsourcing (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737413)

It wasn't outsourcing the production, it was outsourcing the design that was the problem. Particularly outsourcing the design of subsystems to different suppliers. You don't know if the pieces will work together until they come back home. It's not like an engineer at supplier 1 can walk down the hall and talk to a guy working on a part at supplier 2, but this does happen when you're all under one roof.

Re:So it was outsourcing (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737701)

It's the 21st century. It's not like Skype is a new thing, you know. It's a management fiasco. Boeing managers should have made sure that those engineers from various suppliers do in fact talk to each other, and talk often.

Re:So it was outsourcing (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738031)

Boeing managers should have made sure that those engineers from various suppliers do in fact talk to each other, and talk often.

If they put resources toward general contractor-type work that eliminates the whole purpose of outsourcing / eliminating the general contractor work. "We'll pay you guys to do it, but since you won't, we'll do it too, to save money"

Operating in direct opposition to the bosses new management style is probably career limiting.

Re:So it was outsourcing (1)

DCheesi (150068) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738081)

Great in theory, but in practice it's just not the same. Even if the different contractors are introduced to one another, they're still not really familiar with each other, nor do they necessarily view each other as being on the same team. Collaborations like this just work way better when everyone is working under the same hierarchy and getting their personal paychecks from the same place.

Re:So it was outsourcing (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738183)

This may well be, but it's a starting state. People can learn to work around it -- when properly guided. That's where the management comes in.

Re:So it was outsourcing (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737913)

That was an awfully long summary to say "it was outsourcing." But the submitter obviously likes to hear himself talk so he gave it a different name.

First composite airplane? (1)

leandrod (17766) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737445)

Was not a Beech ðe first composite airplane?

Re:First composite airplane? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737931)

I doubt it. Wasn't the Wright flyer made of wood and fabric?

Re:First composite airplane? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42738025)

Was not a Beech ðe first composite airplane?

Yes, the Starship was the first modern composite airplane.

*knock on wood* (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737447)

From the BBC story [bbc.co.uk] :

"I think people had their fingers crossed that it was a battery fault... it looks more systemic and serious to me. I suspect it could be difficult to identify the cause," [Keith Hayward, head of research at the Royal Aeronautical Society] said.

I would hope the folks in change of designing and building aircraft would depend on measurements and calculations, not crossed fingers. Did they also consult a Ouija board?

Re:*knock on wood* (2)

vakuona (788200) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737671)

I think the article (and the person talking) meant that they hoped it was a battery problem because they would then have isolated the problem to a single component, which is much easier to fix.

If the problem is systemic, then it can be orders of magnitude harder to fix. For example, is it because the components, whilst each individually OK, behave in strange ways when combined in a certain way. Is the issue an emergent property of the whole system or only of part of the system? And which part. Is the part that appears to fail the actjal part that fails, or has something else failed (and affected another part badly)?

A completely made up example would be that a voltage regulator fails, and there is a voltage spike somewhere causing another part to melt. How do you know what caused that part to melt, particularly if you weren't monitoring the voltage. (Obviously stupid example.)

First composite airplane? No... (1)

Kevin Burtch (13372) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737483)

Burt Rutan's beautiful creation holds that title.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beechcraft_Starship [wikipedia.org]

Re:First composite airplane? No... (1)

iAlex (134189) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737655)

Um, try again. One of the first composite aircraft was the Bolkow Phoebus sailplane designed in the 50's. It was built with a balsa core and glass fiber. Carbon fiber sailplanes began to be produced starting in the mid 70's.

Re:First composite airplane? No... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737763)

Um, try again.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%B6lkow_Ph%C3%B6nix

Re:First composite airplane? No... (1)

Kevin Burtch (13372) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737795)

Um, try again. One of the first composite aircraft was the Bolkow Phoebus sailplane designed in the 50's. It was built with a balsa core and glass fiber. Carbon fiber sailplanes began to be produced starting in the mid 70's.

" Carbon fiber composite was used to varying degrees on military aircraft, but at the time the Starship was certified, no civilian aircraft certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration had ever used it so extensively."

Also, I'm talking airplanes, not gliders.

outsource that (1)

pesho (843750) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737499)

It's easy to blame the outsourcing.

Ok so if it wasn't outsourcing what was the problem?

But, in this instance, it wasn't so much the outsourcing, as it was the decision to modularize a complicated problem too soon.'

Oh, so it was outsourcing, they were just trying to outsource as early as possible so they won't have to pay engineers to develop the specs.

Lack of individual responsibility (1)

udachny (2454394) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737529)

Sounds like a problem that is similar to designing something by committee and 'sharing responsibility', which really means no responsibility at all.

There is a reason construction needs a foreman, somebody to ensure that things do in fact fit together and that process makes sense, that problems are discovered very soon into the process, so that it doesn't become apparent that the foundation is faulty only after the roof has already been installed.

By the way, this is similar to the problems that I observed almost a decade ago now with so called 'agile' or 'extreme' programming, where there is no real personal responsibility, there is no upfront overall design and approach, everything is ad-hoc and a couple of programmers at every computer are stuck refactoring the same stupid function over and over, while the entire project is sliding into abyss.

Boeing (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737565)

There was a short article on the Dreamliner in the latest New Yorker magazine REQUIEM FOR A DREAMLINER? . Quote Surowiecki :The Dreamliner was supposed to become famous for its revolutionary design. Instead, it’s become an object lesson in how not to build an airplane.
To understand why, you need to go back to 1997, when Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas. Technically, Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas. But, as Richard Aboulafia, a noted industry analyst with the Teal Group, told me, “McDonnell Douglas in effect acquired Boeing with Boeing’s money.” McDonnell Douglas executives became key players in the new company, and the McDonnell Douglas culture, averse to risk and obsessed with cost-cutting, weakened Boeing’s historical commitment to making big investments in new products. Aboulafia says, “After the merger, there was a real battle over the future of the company, between the engineers and the finance and sales guys.” The nerds may have been running the show in Silicon Valley, but at Boeing they were increasingly marginalized by the bean counters.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2013/02/04/130204ta_talk_surowiecki#ixzz2JTGx7SPc

Re:Boeing (1)

fnj (64210) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737829)

MBAs are like politicians. When they need to be bitch slapped and put away, they end up untouchable. But you can't effectively run a country like that, and you certainly can't run an aircraft building company like that - except run it INTO THE GROUND in both cases.

ObAlexander (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737573)

Post-web people may like to read what was all the rage in the early 1990's: the deep philosophy of software development. Doug Lea has a concise summary [oswego.edu] , so you don't have to read several hundred pages. And here's a quick direct quote [google.com] from Christopher Alexander I just now Googled:

...it is not possible to make something beautiful, merely by combining fixed components.

Re:ObAlexander (1)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737921)

One advantage of object-oriented programming on computer systems is that the components are _not_ fixed in terms of how the user perceives them --- behaviours and appearance can easily be modified (see ``pose as'' in Objective-C), keeping the development advantages and maintainability and robustness of discrete components, but allowing customization to a level not possible in the physical world.

NeXTstep was built out of a combination of a number of software components, and if any operating system deserves the appellation ``beautiful'', it would.

For physical components, I can see your point, but I still believe that w/ reasonable engineering controls and better management, and earlier testing the Dreamliner integration could've been more successful and less expensive.

William

Read reason Boeing built it in pieces... (1)

blahbooboo (839709) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737619)

Boeing built it in pieces because they had to be able to sell the plane to foreign countries. It's a tremendous sales aid being able to point to parts of the plane being built by the country interested in purchasing the plane. This is why it's a mess of a build.

Re:Read reason Boeing built it in pieces... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737765)

Good point. In order to sell into nationalist, protected economies that are exempt from WTO rules, such as the BRIC countries, you must manufacture almost all of the components there, or face enormous import tariffs.

Re:Read reason Boeing built it in pieces... (2)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737979)

Almost 40% of a Boeing 777 by weight is foreign sourced (not including engines) so they didn't have to build it n pieces to include foreign suppliers - aside from that, the point of the article is that Boeing also gave the job of detailed design definition to the outsourced suppliers, and that is where the issue comes in.

Aircraft have been built in pieces for decades before the 787, for example all Airbus aircraft since the A320 in the mid 1980s have been built as prefabricated sections and joined on the FAL in exactly the same way as that intended for the 787. Airbus have only had one major issue with this approach, the software issues in CATIA version mismatches that caused the A380 fuck up - it worked perfectly for every aircraft before.

Re:Read reason Boeing built it in pieces... (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738135)

" Airbus have only had one major issue with this approach"
What? no, not true at all.
Bad Cockpit design,. bad wiring, premature stress cracks in the wings.

" it worked perfectly for every aircraft before.
all airplane have items that " worked perfectly for every aircraft before." right up until it crashes. It's a nonsense statement.. at BEST it shows a company not testing old systems on new air craft.

So problem was not outsourcing, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42737719)

... the decision to outsource.
I agree.

Other interesting Boeing paper (1)

advid.net (595837) | about a year and a half ago | (#42737893)

In this artcle they cite a 2001 Boeing paper [amazonaws.com] which I find very interesting.

All those MBA bosses should have a look, it seems very few have learned any lesson since then.

The point is made that not only is the work out-sourced; all the profits associated with the work are out-sourced, too.
...
A strong warning is included about the perils of sub-optimum solutions in which individual cost are minimized in isolation.

It is quite enlightening, given that their problem today could very likely come from those interdepartmental interactions not thoroughly planned enough.

More common than you think... (1)

MasterOfGoingFaster (922862) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738027)

I have news for you. This is how most things are developed.

Homes are built from standardized components, as are production machines, cars, computers and even software. Often, we pick our components first, with only a hazy idea of the finished product. We think we know what we are developing, but after its built, it usually looks quite different than first imagined.

The key is Boeing is developing a much more difficult design and this is their first attempt at using this method. It is understandable that things didn't work perfectly, just like the first time we used CAD systems - something we have come to depend on.

Aircraft today is far more complex then before, and its getting more complex. I can see why Boeing is attempting to spread the workload across a virtual company, rather than attempt to do it completely in-house.

Re:More common than you think... (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738237)

true, homes are built from standardised components but you'll find those components are very well defined and fit together well enough to work. That was the problem with this - the pieces were not well defined enough to fit together well.

Of course a brick is less complicated than an aircraft component, but even then you know exactly what you want to build, and you work out how its going to be put together and then you build it. No-one thinks "I'll build a house, I'll need, umm, some bricks and some wood" and then gets started. they get an architect to draw up some plans and that'll tell you exactly how many bricks and what size and shape wood you need.

Top down vs Bottom up (2)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738047)

Obviously a large project has to have an overarching design and direction but a great example of a failed top down aviation design would be the Space Shuttle. They designed many of the larger systems in oddly specific waves of a wand and then left it to engineers to actually invent them. A really great example of this failure were the cryopumps for the liquid hydrogen and oxygen. This things had to pump a swimming pool of fuel every few seconds and were beyond anything anyone had done before. Yet they had to fit into a specific space and last 25 flights or more. But what happened was that they pumps could not be built to last more than a flight or two and thus became part of the servicing between every flight. The problem was that they were buried deep inside the engines and were a royal pain to replace. This plus a zillion other similar high level decisions resulted in each shuttle flight turnaround taking forever an costing way too much.

So if you look at the Space X people they are doing the opposite and seeing how good an engine they can build and then plopping a spaceship on top of that. This is how functional companies that don't have too much MBA management bloat engineer things. But my guess is that instead of Boeing just designing a better airplane with composites and seeing what interesting things could be done they made a long series of "executive" decisions and then told outsourced engineering teams to make square pegs fit into round holes. This would be as opposed to a healthy back and fourth where a high level goal is set, the rubber meets the road engineers give their feed back that changes the high level design which results in more feedback until you have a solid high level design that the engineers are fairly certain they can design.

I suspect nearly every programmer here has had a taste of this when some MBA type demands a costly feature that when all is said and done will be used by one person to very little benefit; all because there was no real feedback mechanism to say "whoa there dumb feature."

That's WHY outsourcing (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738057)

is the problem. Well, you save a few pennies in development Boeing, hows that working out for you?

Re:That's WHY outsourcing (2)

Virtucon (127420) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738301)

Stop.. In manufacturing there's a lot of integration, third party suppliers or outsourcing as it can also be called. All of those have various degrees of risk associated with them. When you're talking about the scale of what Boeing did on the 787, I think it created new management challenges that they weren't fully expecting and the result was cost overruns and schedule delays. They've always integrated and outsourced with partners. For example I know that they don't make their own nuts and bolts, or rivets or engines for their planes. These come, and have for many many decades, from suppliers who were given specifications and who worked with Boeing. Some of the components such as engines were developed in close partnership, meaning teams from engine manufacturer X at Boeing etc. It's been long since proven that doing it all yourself doesn't get you ahead, you do have more control ala Henry Ford and the River Rouge plant [wikipedia.org] where he didn't have to rely on anybody, or that was his thinking anyway but that went out in the 40s when he couldn't keep up with his contracts for the US government. He even made his own steel. And it eventually became very cumbersome for Ford to maintain this. This was an industry lesson learned and it clearly demonstrated that no manufacturer can exist and create everything on their own and within each business there are associated risks and supply chains that have to be monitored, preserved and nurtured to make it all happen. Do suppliers fail? Yes, but that is one of the risks associated with modern manufacturing and it's up to your business management models to help manage that risk. Obviously in that case Boeing gets a "C-" for the 787 and with the current electrical system woes, they get an "I" for incomplete. They do get an "A" for effort in trying to build something new that hasn't been done before. If you read the stories from people and the press about how their experiences are on the 787, then you'll see what I'm talking about. LCD window shades, quiet cabins.. As somebody who flies, weekly, this is long overdue and it's innovative and yes, with all new innovations there are teething problems. As for the supply chain issues, they'll get settled and yes there may be a "labor" component involved here especially since there have been problems for them getting things manufactured here in the US [politifact.com] . If you want a root cause for "outsourcing" look to the US government that in "some" cases goes way out of its way to make things hard for businesses and also creates nice big loopholes in legislation that allow H1-B visas to be used for "Kindergarten Teachers." [myvisajobs.com]

The solution was not far from them... (1)

XB-70 (812342) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738195)

They should have hired Linus Torvalds to consult and used git for the master blueprint.

Premature modularization applies to many systems (1)

Doug Jensen (691112) | about a year and a half ago | (#42738205)

The bottom line of this story is a mistake that is a peril to virtually all large complex systems -- in particular (of interest to this forum), software-based systems. I see this mistake made in large complex (are there any other kind?) military systems, especially distributed ones -- my primary field of professional expertise. The context for this mistake often is that the system integrator usually prematurely farms out system components to subcontractors in as many politically important states and subcontractors as possible. Moreover, there is a DoD bandwagon called Modular Open Systems Architecture, which (like capitalism, as we have seen all too clearly) can be misapplied and exaggerated. Wouldn't I just love to describe some (very expensive) real examples .... but I need my consulting clients and security clearance :)

kernels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42738233)

Take THAT Andrew Tanenbaum!

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?