Boeing, the $55 billion Chicago-based aerospace company, has been a major player in the global economy for almost a century. But now the company is undertaking a far-reaching transformation as it uses cutting-edge materials and electronics and high-level technology for the design and assembly process of its new passenger plane –the Boeing 787. The new plane, nicknamed the “Dreamliner,” is Boeing’s bid for market leadership in competition with Airbus. The new midsize passenger jet will have an outer shell and about half of its parts made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, which will make it lighter and give it better fuel economy. In January 2006, the company had 291 firm orders and 88 commitments from 27 airlines for the new 787, which will seat from 250 to 330 passengers in varying configurations. The list price is about $150 million per plane.
The previous state of the art in aviation manufacturing was to have global partners work from a common blueprint to produce parts-actually, whole sections of the airplane-that were then physically shipped to a Boeing assembly plant near Seattle to see if they fit together. Prior to the 787, wood mock-ups of planes would be constructed to see if parts built by partners around the world would really fit together. When the process failed, the cost in time and production was extreme.
Boeing’s shift goes beyond making planes faster and cheaper. The new business model takes Boeing from manufacturing to a high-end technology systems integrator. In 2004, Boeing’s IT systems people were consolidated into the Boeing Technology Group. Now parts are designed from concept to production concurrently by partners (including companies in Japan, Russia, and Italy) and “assembled” in a computer model maintained by Boeing outside its corporate firewall. Boeing’s role is integrator and interface to the airlines, while the partners take responsibility for the major pieces, including their design. Boeing still takes the hit if the plane...
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