The Boeing Company was established in 1916. Everett, Washington is home to the Boeing factory which is the largest airplane assembly yard in the world. In February 2011, Boeing Company set out to move some of 787 assembly work to another factory in North Charleston, South Carolina to create more space due to overcrowding of 787s at Everett resulting from large volumes of orders of 787. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is an improvement from previous models namely: 747, 767 and 777. The Boeing 787 has two models, the 787-8 and 787-9. This paper aims to explore the making of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the problems that have been encountered, and solutions that have been implemented.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is Boeing’s latest product of new technology in the aviation industry. It is a long-range, wide body and twin-engine jet airliner, developed for commercial purposes. It was initially designated the title 7E7 before its renaming to 787 in January, 2005. Depending on the model, the 787 can carry between 210 to 290 passengers and fly long haul routes. Boeing Company reports that 787 is most fuel efficient airliner compared to the other Boeing models. Boeing 787 is also the first airliner in the world to be made from composite materials such as carbon fibers used as the primary material in its airframe construction. The main concept and objective behind the Boeing 787 is to meet the rapidly growing air travel demand and to improve on plane making. The Boeing 787 has unique features such as electrical flight structures, chevrons that limit noise on its engine nacelles, a four-panel windshield, and a smoother nose outline. It shares a mutual model rating with the bigger 777 twinjet, permitting qualified pilots to fly both models since they both have related features (Aeromagazine, 2012).
The Boeing 787 is the first airliner to be constructed with a fuselage coupled with a one-piece primary composite barrel sections rather than multiple sheets of aluminium and some 50,000 fasteners currently used on other planes. Since Boeing 787 is a large plane, it equally requires large engines to power. Boeing Company selected two powerful engines for 787; Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 and General Electric GEnx. These engines serve to make Boeing 787 more fuel efficient by up to 20% than 767. Further improvements on aerodynamics, use of lighter composite materials and advanced systems boosted the performance of Boeing 787 to be certified to the 330 minute as stipulated by U.S. based extended operations (ETOPS). Boeing 787 has a larger headroom, wider windows, and up to date electronics on the passenger compartment and on the flight deck (University Of Washington , 2008).
With the intension of saving production time and reducing the risks associated with the complex technology employed, Boeing Company outsources most of the components of the Boeing 787 from other manufacturers across the world. The company does this to benefit and optimize on the expertise and professionalism of the manufacturers hence resulting into ultimate efficiency of the 787. This is also a marketing strategy for the Boeing 787 in the countries where the manufacturers are based. Seventeen partners in ten countries take part in the making of the Boeing 787 and these partners also contribute in the developmental cost of the Boeing 787. They include Vought Aircraft Industries in South Carolina, Global Aeronautica of Italy, Spirit Aerosystems of USA, Korean Air of South Korea and Kawasaki heavy industries which specialize in the making of the rear fuselage. Alenia Aeronautical of Italy and Korea Aerospace Industries of South Korea make horizontal tail pieces and the middle fuselage segments. Three Japanese companies Kawasaki, Fuji, and Mitsubishi heavy industries produce the wings of the plane. Toronto-based Onex Corporation is tasked with designing and making the nose section. Latecoere of France and Saab AB of Sweden produce passenger doors, cargo doors, and crew escape door. Software development is done by the HLC Enterprises in India. Floor beams are made by TAL Manufacturing Solutions Limited in India and wiring is done by the Labinal Company of France. Korean Air also makes wing-tips, wheel well bulkhead, flap support fairings, and longerons. The landing gear is crafted by the Messier-Dowty in United Kingdom and France. Air conditioning packs and power management and distribution systems are structured by the Hamilton Sundstrand in Connecticut, USA. All of the bulky body parts are shipped to the Everett factory for final assembly of the Boeing 787. They are shipped on board a fleet of three custom-made Boeing 747 freighters known as dreamlifters (Wagner, 2009).
However, outsourcing also presents some challenges although the benefits outdo the potential risks. These potential risks include failure to meet the delivery schedules of the Boeing Company. There is also the possibility of paying hefty penalties in terms of millions of dollars in case of delayed deliveries. Sometime the plug-in parts may be unfitting, or not made as required. Another challenge is that the assembly instruction manual may not be structured in the English language. In some critical cases, the partners may in turn refer the work given to them to other sub-companies. Some partners who are not competitive in the aviation manufacturing industry may find it hard to meet the quality standards required by the Boeing Company. In cases where sub-companies report to the partners, problems may occur, and there may be delays for these problems to be communicated to the Boeing Company (Petrescu, 2012).
The making of the Boeing 787 and its performance in the aviation industry has not been well-performing. In the middle of year 2007, Boeing Company reported that 787 might face a delay of few months due to late delivery of body parts such as special fasteners for the rear fuselage. This became even more serious in early 2008 when the Boeing Company reported that the first 787 would be late by up to 12 months, and additional 2 billion dollars was injected to the developmental cost. This led to hefty penalties summing up to millions of dollars paid to leading customers by the Boeing Company due to the late deliveries. Partners that failed to meet Boeing’s delivery schedules included Alenia of Italy who had land issues to sort with Italian local authorities. When the fuselage sections were finally delivered from Alenia, they were faulty and could not meet the quality standards of the Boeing Company. Many parts had been installed improperly on fuselages, and the instruction manual was only available in Italian. The outsourcing of work by partners to other sub-companies also caused a major problem. For instance, Vought Aircraft Industries in South Carolina outsourced the work of designing and making floor pieces to an Israeli Company. This Israeli Company had challenges meeting the quality standards of the Boeing Company, but it was reporting to the executives of Vought Aircraft Industries and not to the Boeing Company. However, this was finally reported to the Boeing Company when the challenge became too much to handle and time was running out. Boeing rapidly expatriated engineers to Israel to work with the Israeli Company, though the whole project was already running behind schedule. Boeing finally opted to acquire Vought Aircraft Industries and brought it in-house in 2009 for purposes of closer supervision oversight and coordination (Aeromagazine, 2012).
Other problems facing the Boeing 787 have been mechanical hitches (such as fuel and oil leakage) and electrical faults, mostly explosion of their lithium-ion batteries. With all the state-of-the-art plug-in parts assembled in the Boeing 787, meaning the electrical system must be sustainable. This requires powerful battery packs that would provide standby power in case the plane’s generators fail. The Boeing 787 is fitted with 32-volt battery packs (each containing 8 lithium-ion cells) which are rechargeable and they do not compromise the weight of the plane. They, however, are not utilized during normal flight but are maintained at full charge for back up by the plane’s generators. They can be charged at a faster rate and keep the charge for longer period of time. Nevertheless, they have presented a problem to the Boeing 787 which is their ability to explode when overcharged. When they rupture due to overheating or physical damage they emit inflammable gases that ignite and result to explosions. Additionally, if moisture or other impurities find their way into the cells during manufacture, the batteries can short-circuit and trigger an explosion. In an effort to curb these risks, lithium-ion batteries have sensors and a circuitry system that shut them down upon very high or low voltage. Since the inception of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner into the commercial service in 2011, oil and fuel leaks have been a frequent hazard. In January 2013, a JAL (Japan Airlines) 787 Dreamliner was about to take off from Boston’s Logan Airport to Tokyo, when a spill of 40 gallons of fuel was discovered. In the same month, an ANA (All Nippon Airways) Dreamliner in Japan was reported to have oil leakage at Miyazaki Airport. Japan has the highest number of the new Boeing 787s hence it is the most affected by the incidents (CNBC, 2013).
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all the 50 Boeing 787 operations over safety concerns, in the middle of January 2013. This was a result of a number of high-profile hazardous occurrences with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, including a battery fire, fuel leaks, a wiring hitch and a brake computer malfunction. Battery fire was reported on a parked 787 in Boston while smoke caused a similar plane to have an emergency landing in Tokyo. In a bid to curb battery fires, Boeing's new battery system which was approved (in late February 2013) by FAA to be tested, is redesigned to reduce the possibilities of short-circuiting. It shields the 8 cells within the battery better and incorporates a new containment and pressurized air system to prevent havoc in case there is fire in the battery compartment (Yeo, 2013).
In conclusion, Jim McNerney, the chief executive of Boeing welcomed the approval by the FAA saying that it would boost the overall integrity, safety and performance of Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The Boeing 787 was grounded under the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) for airworthiness which are included in the Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Part 34 of the 14 Code of Federal Regulations covers regulations for fuel venting and exhaust release necessities for airplanes powered by turbine engines. Though FAA officials stated that the Boeing 787 is safe, they recommended a comprehensive review to determine the causes of the incidents of battery fires and fuel leaks (Brown, 2013).
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