Mark D. Jenks - Development of the Boeing 787: Customers, Composites, and Collaboraton
From Katie Gentilello
Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner represents not only a breakthrough in aerospace structures technology with its firstever composite fuselage and wing, it also represents a major advance in large- scale global collaboration. The development process began with the Sonic Cruiser, a radically new concept for increasing the speed of large commercial jet transports. Early on, it was recognized that the same basic suite of technologies that enabled higher speed at acceptable cost, could also provide vastly superior operating economics (through lighter weight and lower maintenance costs) with today’s Mach .85 performance. After an exhaustive process working with the world’s major airlines, Boeing selected efficiency over speed and the 7E7 (later renamed the 787 Dreamliner) was born. The formal development process began with the program launch in 2003 and recently has moved into initial production with the fabrication of the first major structures for airplane #1 at seven major production sites around the world (Alenia, Kawasaki, Fuji, Mitsubishi, Spirit, Vought and Boeing) and the start of major assembly of the wing at FHI’s Handa plant outside of Nagoya, Japan. The initial full-scale structural tests of the wing have been completed, the first fuselage sections are in production at four major sites around the world, and the first massive composite wing skins have been produced by MHI in their new facility in Nagoya. The other breakthrough developed during this period was the creation of a whole new business model for global collaboration. Along with an advanced suite of design and collaboration tools developed with Daussault Systems, Boeing assembled a network of the world’s leading aerospace firms to participate in the early configuration development process and take primary responsibility for the detail design and manufacture of large integrated volumes of the airplane. This diverse base of highly integrated partnerships has lead to vastly improved efficiencies through technology sharing as well as leveraging the differences in company and national cultures and their varied approaches to problem solving. In the end, the true competitive advantage stems not from any individual technology, but rather from the combined ability to integrate intimate customer knowledge, to identify and develop the highest leverage technologies from around the world and to effectively marshal the diverse strengths of the global aerospace industry.