Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s Moonshot

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is looking for nothing short of “step-function improvements” at the $94.6 billion aviation and defense behemoth. How he gets there could shape the future of manufacturing worldwide.

Muilenburg outlines 4 big ideas that are yielding transformative steps.

1. Driving Modularity. This involves bringing commonality into Boeing’s manufacturing systems in terms of major subsystem assemblies and integrated subsystems coming in from one’s supply chain. A good example is flight deck commonality and parts interchangeability across various product lines, such as common flight system displays in a 737 that are also used in advanced defense aircraft like the KC-46 tanker for the military.

2. Value-added Automation. Introducing automation will streamline supply chains inside factory spaces. For example, the 787 Dreamliner built in Boeing’s Charleston, South Carolina, features something the company refers to as a “quodbot,” an automated device that drills holes and places thousands of fasteners that previously had been done manually. What once took five days is now down to little over a one-day process. Step-change improvements in flow time also produce significant improvements in quality and safety. “These are the kind of automation advances that not only reduce cycle and flow time, but reduce cost,” says Muilenburg.

3. On-Demand Customization. Using 3D-printed parts, Boeing offers customers specific features that can uniquely differentiate aircraft for customers. Customization that previously would have disrupted its production lines is now widely embraced in its factories and is a part of its overall manufacturing capability.

4. Digitizing Manufacturing Operations. Using data analytic engines to monitor and guide operations on the plant floor boosts efficiency. The idea is to tie all operations in an end-to-end lifecycle value chain all the way from engineering to manufacturing to support. “We’re seeing these digital threads creating advancements of 70 percent to 90 percent improvement in flow time, significant improvements in first-time quality,” Muilenburg says. “This will have a dramatic step-change improvement in how we build and compete for the future. These four big ideas are things that we’re driving across the entire company and our supply chain as part of our manufacturing transformation.”

A Conversation
At Chief Executive’s Smart Manufacturing Summit in Seattle (May 2017), Muilenburg advised the 200 or so CEOs in attendance to think about manufacturing transformation in terms of end-to-end lifecycle transformation of how products are designed, built and supported. In his view, this is “smart globalization” that goes hand-in-hand with smart manufacturing. It’s not about moving manufacturing assembly to take advantage of labor arbitrage, but improving manufacturing capability around the world to grow the pie and add jobs globally to increase competitive advantage.

For example, although Boeing has about 80 percent of its supply chain jobs here in the U.S. the company continues to grow its supply chain presence overseas. It builds parts in Melbourne, Australia for the 787 and manufactures Apache attack helicopter fuselages through a joint venture in India. A finishing center in Zhouzhuang, China, takes delivery of 737s from the Renton factory and provides seats and paint for delivery to Chinese customers.

At SMS, we talked to Muilenburg to learn more about his key concepts, and how he was transforming Boeing. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

In your assembly of aircraft, a complex undertaking, which set of tools—3D printing, Internet of Things or cloud computing—has most improved your operations?
No single technology or technique is the key to success. It’s digitally connecting all of these approaches. When you think about an airplane, it’s about a million parts flying in close formation. It has to work every time. Digitally designing and connecting it is a big powerful idea for us because it not only improves flowtime but improves quality and safety at the same time.

This idea of 3D printing is particularly critical as we get into more composite parts in on-demand customization, because in the past variability in our manufacturing lines has been difficult to handle. Now, we can create purposeful variability in our production lines that adds value for customers. This represents a big shift in how we design and manufacture.

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