According to the article “Boeing: New Jet, New Way of Doing Business” almost everything about the new Boeing 787 is different, from the cutting-edge materials and electronics used to build the plane, to the technology used during the design and assembly process. It is so different, in fact, that even the Boeing Co. itselfï¿½a fixture in the global economy for nearly a century is undergoing a radical transformation as it builds this next-generation jet.
The design and production strategy employed by the $55 billion, Chicago-based aerospace giant to get the 787 built as quickly and economically as possible involves an unprecedented degree of collaboration between Boeing and its partners around the world partners who are participating in the actual design of the plane. All of which marks a shift in the way Boeing defines itself: The company is no longer just a manufacturer, but also a high-end systems integrator. “We are a technology company,” says Scott Griffin, Boeing vice president and CIO.
The reasons Boeing is making the shift go beyond the savings it hopes to enjoy by making the planes faster and cheaper. The company is also spreading the costs of design and development throughout its partner network, and building global relationships that may, in turn, help the company sell its planes overseas.
“The design is occurring in Japan, Russia, Italy, the U.S.,” Griffin says. “This is not merely a PowerPoint or SharePoint collaboration, or looking at two-dimensional drawings to see if a company can bid on a contract. This is big companies like the Japanese heavies, and our Russian design center, and Boeing in Everett working together. This is something that creates competitive advantage.
“This kind of collaboration has taken a huge amount of time out of the process,” he adds. “It’s where the big savings are.”
Griffin identifies three kinds of collaboration between teams and companies, although he stresses that the levels shade into each other. Basic collaboration, he says, involves useful information-flow tools such as Microsoft Office and SharePoint. “Everyone calls in, makes their changes in blue, and the team works together,” he says. The next level involves suppliers working with their supply chains, and Boeing working closely with its suppliers. This is an effort that encompasses much of the aerospace industry, including Boeing’s rivals and multiple tiers of suppliers.
Boeing and other aerospace companies use a product suite from Exostar LLC to share two-dimensional drawings, do forward and reverse auctions, and respond to RFPs. “We use the term ‘global enterprise,’ to describe it,” he says. “It goes beyond talking to strategic suppliers, to having it look like the enterprise. This is a set of tools that allows you to do more than communicate.”
But it is the high-level, real-time collaboration with its design partners that is “the differentiator,” says Griffin. It’s key to how the trailing edge of the wings, and the place where the wings attach to the body, can be built halfway around the world from each other and still be parts of a safe and stable aircraft. Technology is the enabler of this kind of collaboration, which involves a significant amount of product lifecycle management across multiple countries. Boeing requires all its partners on the 787 to use an application called Catia, made by Dassault, and the plane is designed at a special online site, maintained by Boeing, called the Global Collaboration Environment.