Boeing's 787 supply chain has slowly regrouped from last year's production system meltdown. All six major structural producers are now approaching milestones originally set for September-October 2007, but progress is stabilising roughly on track with the latest revised schedule.

Vought Aircraft shipped the aft fuselage for the fourth flight-test aircraft on 6 June. Spirit AeroSystems expects to deliver the nose fuselage on 19 June. On the same day, the Global Aeronautica joint venture is expected to deliver the centre fuselage, with 250 out of more than 400 wiring bundles currently installed.

The level of out-of-sequence, or travelled, work, meanwhile, remains at various levels among Boeing's seven major structural partners, but there are clear signs of progress.

Spirit's team expects to deliver the first fully assembled barrel with the fourth nose section, excluding paint and some flight-test structure. Vought shipped the fourth aft fuselage after completing 98% of the structure and about 87% of the systems.

 © Max Kingsley-Jones/Flight International

Global Aeronautica lags behind the other partners, expecting to deliver the centre fuselage to Boeing's final assembly centre with only about half of its share complete.

Meanwhile, two of the structural producers to Global Aeronautica on the centre fuselage - Alenia Aeronautica and Kawasaki Heavy Industries - are also trailing other partners, says Bob Noble, Boeing's vice-president for 787 supply chain management.

By contrast, two other Japanese "heavies" - Mitsubishi and Fuji - are in better shape.

"The production system is coming together," says Bob Noble, Boeing's director of supply chain management, addressing reports at Spirit's factory. "There's a close competition now for the partners to get to their first 100% completions."

Production activity has also stabilised roughly across the board among the structural producers. In addition to the first two test articles, each of Boeing's structural providers are working on line numbers from four through 22 simultaneously, Noble says.

As the assembler for the centre fuselage, Global Aeronautica's factory is occupied by line numbers four through six only. However, Noble says, the inventory will always be smaller than the structural providers, based on its role in the programme.

The supply chain is only now recovering from a production crisis caused by travelled work and parts shortages. Vought and Global Aeronautica executives have acknowledged manufacturing and supply chain breakdowns, while Boeing has assumed responsibility for the shortfall of wiring shipments to Spirit.

Boeing's latest revised scheduled, unveiled on 9 April, forced Spirit to abruptly halt work. At the same time, other suppliers, including Global Aeronautica and Vought, needed the extra time to catch up.

"We're in great shape and hoping for other companies to catch up so we can get really rolling," said Ron Brunton, Spirit's executive vice-president and chief operating officer, speaking at the company's 787 factory in Wichita, Kansas.

Boeing's new schedule calls the supply chain to start ramping up production sometime in the fourth quarter, with rate of final assembly picking up in the second quarter of 2009.

Noble acknowledged that jump-starting production less than one year after "breaking rate" must be done carefully. Boeing is scrutinising its supply chain at all levels to make sure there is capacity to support the latest revised schedule, which calls for building up to a rate of 10 aircraft a month by 2010.

"There are still a few things we're sorting out," Noble says. "You have to make sure that everybody is ready all the way down the parts stream when you break rate. We literally go all the way back to dirt to make sure we know where everything is coming."

Another challenge is to ensure that the 787 workforce can cope with the change. Spirit, for example, has dispersed about 300 workers to other programmes that use paper-based design drawings. When they return to the 787 programme, they must relearn the 787's paperless engineering and manufacturing process.

Source: Flight International