Design Process and People

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Boeing Design Process

Bill Boeing founded The Boeing Company on the belief that he could build something better. That philosophy continues today and is seen in Boeing’s culture of continuous improvement. When Boeing pursues innovation and change, it does so in a manner that is disciplined, rigorous and thorough, employing a team that pulls from the brightest minds in the industry.

For commercial airplane manufacturers such as Boeing, product changes are driven by the need to adapt to evolving market conditions and keep pace with advances in technology. Manufacturers like Boeing also introduce design changes based on learnings from the in-service fleet. The goal is to innovate in ways that improve the industry and passenger experience, while always holding safety of the passengers and crew as the utmost priority. Boeing’s objectives when it undertakes a change to its products include:

  • Improving the safety and wellbeing of passengers and crew.
  • Making design improvements that yield efficiencies and cost savings.
  • Boosting airplane efficiency and performance.
  • Complying with new regulatory requirements.
  • Meeting new customer requirements.
  • Addressing obsolete parts and materials.

Mobilizing the best team

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When the need for a product change is identified, Boeing draws from its tens of thousands of engineers around the world who have experience and expertise in commercial airplanes, defense, space and security. When a design requires deep knowledge in a specific field, Boeing is able to engage the most qualified and informed experts.

The resources available to Boeing include the consortium of nearly 1,900 technical experts who are members of the Boeing Technical Fellowship program. Fellows have deep expertise in more than 40 disciplines and technologies, represent some of the top minds in the industry and are often deployed to solve the most-complex technical, engineering and scientific challenges across the company. Boeing employees also include nearly 3,000 active inventors. In total, our employees hold nearly 100,000 degrees that are Bachelor’s or higher. Additionally, our employees hold more than 1.75 million certifications, of which more than 400,000 are production-specific. At the beginning of 2019, Boeing held more than 22,000 active patents worldwide.

FAQs on Design Process

What process does Boeing use to design and develop an airplane?

Boeing follows a rigorous and disciplined process from the earliest phases of a program through delivery and the life of an airplane.
This "gated" process for a change proposal begins when Boeing engineers outline a solution that includes the consideration of all safety requirements, weight, technical performance measures and configuration. The proposed solution is then subjected to more than a dozen separate gate reviews, which are detailed reviews conduct at scheduled intervals by program leaders working alongside technical, functional and subject matter experts.Outside experts also provide input, with top leaders from other Boeing programs, retired Boeing leaders and executives, and suppliers sharing their expertise to ensure a safe and airworthy design. The reviews cover requirements, airplane configuration and performance, tests and certification, production plans, suppliers and partners, technology, and integrated program plans.Once a proposal is approved, Engineering works with various organizations and supplier partners. An impact assessment review board is convened to ensure that all groups have been identified and provided input. Only at that point is a decision made on whether to proceed with a design change.
Chart showing continuous improvement in 3 phases
For a development program, the process begins during the product development stage when engineers are defining performance, systems, physical and structural requirements. When changes need to be made to an airplane in production, certification begins with the change request or change authorization.The process continues once the airplane is in service. Program technical review boards with chief project engineers and fleet chiefs regularly monitor the in-service fleet to evaluate its performance and any operational issues. Detailed technical reviews to find solutions to emergent issues are coordinated with the customers, regulatory agencies and the industry – even competitors in the case of safety issues.Boeing is subject to the regulatory authority and oversight of the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) throughout the extensive process leading to the launch of a new program, or derivative. This disciplined interaction is crucial to the progression of any design changes.Certification processes are spelled out in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 21. An airplane cannot enter service unless a manufacturer has demonstrated to the FAA that an airplane complies with all certification requirements.

Did the 737 MAX undergo the same disciplined process as an all-new airplane?

The safety of airplane crews and passengers is the primary consideration when Boeing engineers develop a new airplane or a derivative. Safety is at the core of everything that we do – as people, as a company, as an industry. Our mission is to safely and efficiently connect people, cultures, economies, ideas and places. And that’s what we at Boeing strive to do every day. Sometimes, changes in airline or passenger requirements, aviation and environmental regulations, and advances in technology warrant the creation of an all-new airplane. But frequently, the best course of action is to update an existing airplane model. This allows for technological advances and innovation to be utilized earlier. Airplane derivatives undergo the same rigorous, gated development process and garner the same level of scrutiny and engineering assessment as “all-new” programs. Each change is subject to robust discussion, analysis and testing. In the case of the 737 MAX, years of work and testing went into the changes that were made on the aircraft.

How does Boeing learn from past experiences?

When the process of creating a new technology, or updating an existing one, begins, engineers and experts from a broad range of backgrounds are purposefully integrated into each new team. That collaboration leverages the expertise they have gained over the years, and ensures current teams learn from the test and in-service experiences of past programs. Another important process is the utilization of Non-Advocate Reviews (NARs). NARs bring specialists who were not involved in a particular design, yet have critical technical training and expertise, into review panels to ensure a design is sound. Boeing has utilized this practice for decades – one recent example was during the 787 battery issue – in which the NAR played a key role in reviewing the solution and ensuring its safety and effectiveness.

More 737 MAX Resources

Here’s more information about our ongoing efforts in working with customers, regulators, pilots and airlines around the world to improve flying for everyone.