F-35 vs 787, part 4: The Finale

BF-2 rolledoff the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter assembly line in Fort Worth last Saturday. Completing thefourth prototype came about one week late, but, Lockheed Martin says, stillwell “within the noise” of the overall production schedule. More significantly,Lockheed is still pumping out one aircraft per month, a rate that must besustained through the end of 2009 to finish off the prototype fleet on time to supportan aggressive flight test schedule.

So far, sogood.

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But what happenswhen the annual output rate basically triples from 2010 to 2012 (12 to 32 + afew foreign orders), then almost quadruples from 2012 to 2014 (32+ to 118+)?

F-35program manager Lt. Gen. Charles Davis, who I interviewed last month, told me healready is seeing the strains of simultaneous ramp-ups for both JSF and the 787as he visits production sites worldwide. “I’m fighting for space in the plant that’sfor 787 stuff,” Davissaid.

Davis also takes a philosophical view onthe causes of recent production system meltdowns for any aerospace program,including the 787. The increasing sophistication of tools for designing aircrafthas simply outpaced the progress in manufacturing technology and capacity,creating an unhealthy imbalance as programs transition from the development tothe production phase.

The JSFprogram is hoping to cope with this phenomenon by investing an extra $1.5billion in upfront tooling, mainly to bring second-source suppliers, such asTAI in Turkey and Terma in Denmark, up to quality and rate standards forthe F-35 program, Davissaid. He describes the $1.5 billion investment as a necessary cost growth inthe beginning of the program that will pay huge dividends by the sixth andseventh years of production, as the monthly production rate exceeds 10aircraft.

Behind the scenes,the US and UK industry partners are working intensely with other foreign manufacturersthat will serve as second source suppliers on critical parts in the full-rateproduction phase. Northrop Grumman’s Randy Secor, a vice president for the F-35program, told me earlier this month that TAI’s employees have been trained on theproduction line with Northrop’s mechanics and assemblers. “Lack of a criticalpart at a single supplier will stop you dead in your tracks,” Secor said.

But F-35industry officials are also realistic about the difficulty of staying on trackas the production rate escalates after 2012. Secor told me that he expects “hugechallenges” with meeting the one aircraft per day target after 2016, but it isachievable if the entire industry team works together to solve the problemsthat arise rather than pointing fingers.



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2 Responses to F-35 vs 787, part 4: The Finale

  1. EG 22 August, 2008 at 8:06 pm #

    “The increasing sophistication of tools for designing aircraft has simply outpaced the progress in manufacturing technology and capacity, creating an unhealthy imbalance as programs transition from the development to the production phase.”

    Sorry to disagree, I believe a contribution to the imbalance comes from engineers and management who are increasingly disconnected from the shop floor and design in a manner that does not take into account the limitations of their existing manufacturing capabilities.
    One must know where the single point of failure (Or critical path or some other in vogue buzzword) is or they and their program will get hung out to dry.
    As an aside, I also wonder how many delays have been caused by failed JIT deliveries that had quality problems.

  2. DensityDuck 28 August, 2008 at 12:41 am #

    I cannot see the term “JIT delivery” without snickering like Beavis.

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