IT-driven strategy yet to take flight


Boeing announces another delay for its 787 program.

Maybe not apparent from the headlines, but this is a major IT story.

As we reported two years ago:

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 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. There, successive iterations of the planes were built and refined with onsite teams from around the world.

On the 787, that process has gone the way of the biplane. Instead, parts are designed concurrently by partners, and virtually "assembled" in a computer model maintained by Boeing outside its corporate firewall. "We have different people building different pieces by creating data that is assembled and checked in real time," says Griffin, who is responsible for the computer systems that make this process possible. Ultimately, completed sections of the plane will be picked up by three specially fitted 747s and carried to a Boeing facility in Everett, Wash. Thanks to the online modeling, Boeing can now trust its global partners with the process of creating entire sections of the plane, from concept to production.

..."This kind of collaboration has taken a huge amount of time out of the process," he adds. "It's where the big savings are."

Or, y'know, not.

Griffin retired last summer.


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