Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Commercial Airplanes


Better, faster, cheaper—but most of all, better


employee working on planeMost Boeing employees likely are familiar with the concepts of Lean, supplier relationships, and global manufacturing—supporting a design-anywhere, build-anywhere vision of the future. It seems like any time you pick up a copy of Boeing Frontiers or take a walk through the factory, you're reading about Lean manufacturing or seeing a Shingijutsu consultant in action.

This is by design. A lean and efficient operation is the heart of the Boeing Production System and is crucial to Commercial Airplanes' success in the global market place.

However, there is more to this story: The Boeing Production System is more than Lean, more than supplier partnerships, more than process improvement. Commercial Airplanes also must manage defects and continue to focus on quality across all production lines to remain competitive and be successful.

"Commercial Airplanes is going through a lot of changes right now," said Steve Westby, vice president of Manufacturing for Airplane Programs. "But our vision of where we're going hasn't changed. Quality—built into our production system—is a key part of that vision. More than ever, we're focused on doing what it takes to be the best and stay competitive."


The Boeing Production System is composed of several elements that work in concert to ensure an output of the highest-quality cost-effective products in the least amount of time. The Boeing Production System principles—Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, value streams, global manufacturing and managing supplier relationships—are all elements that are critical to the company's competitiveness.

One area of opportunity comes from managing what is called the "value stream" of building an airplane. Simply defined, value streams represent the overall production flow of building an airplane, from raw material to finished output. Put another way, it's the path by which a company's value, in the form of its products and services, makes its way to the customer.

From suppliers to factory to office to market, along value streams are opportunities to cut costs and increase efficiencies. By breaking down all aspects of producing an airplane into manageable chunks—or streams—of activity, it becomes easier to identify areas for improvement. This in turn helps increase the focus on what's value-added and what isn't, fundamentally reducing costs and improving quality.

In Commercial Airplanes, part of the value-stream process has resulted in the implementation of many successful practices like those Japanese manufacturers use in environments such as Toyota and Fujisawa. In-house design and right-sized equipment and machines are considered a competitive advantage. Activities are time-based, paced to the production line, which is in turn paced to customer demand. Inventory is replenished based on kanban "pull." Mistake-proofing and built-in quality are throughout the entire factory and part of every process.

Chart - BQMS and Lean support each otherUltimately, quality is at the heart of Boeing manufacturing, and the ability to determine the normal from the abnormal plays a key role in the implementation of Lean and the effort to build quality into manufacturing systems.

Quality at the core

The Boeing Production System and the Boeing Quality Management System are inextricably linked, as Manufacturing and Quality organizations work together to achieve total customer satisfaction through a lean production system.

"Boeing builds the best products in the world, and its standards are second to none," Westby said. "You can't build without quality and you can't ensure quality without Lean initiatives. They're interdependent."

But whose responsibility is it to ensure our products are the best they can be? The answer: everyone. Each of us has the obligation to ensure we never create, accept or knowingly pass on a defect.

"In the past, Quality Assurance inspectors were like goalies during sudden-death overtime in a soccer match, trying to catch defects as they whizzed by," said Sandy Postel, vice president of Quality for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "While that's one way to look at quality, what we're truly striving for is the 'Big-Q quality'—making exactly what the customer wants—to design, build and deliver a perfect product at cost."

The goal of any manufacturing production system is to have quality embedded in the product—not automated, but automatic.

"Quality is a system, and it involves everyone in the manufacturing process, from laborers to suppliers to engineers, to support services to marketing and sales," Postel said. "At Toyota, engineers confirm that Manufacturing can actually build a part before the drawings are sent to the factory floor. They design verification methods into the manufacturing process. As a result, they have very few quality inspectors."

One part of the Quality Management System's mission is to make the transition from quality inspectors as goalies to quality as a built-in process.

"We can't blame it all on Quality Assurance if there are escapes—everyone is responsible, all are accountable, and all are empowered to ensure defects are not passed on," Postel said.

Taking quality to a 'hole' new level

Drilling holes may seem like a simple task; however, in reality it's anything but simple.

If a mechanic drills a hole that's the wrong size, in the wrong spot, or at the slightest off-angle, drilling, reaming and countersinking can lead to myriad quality problems on a commercial jet.

Multiply each opportunity by 18 million—the number of holes drilled at Commercial Airplanes each month—and you can see a quality issue worthy of attention.

"Quality is free, if we do it right the first time," said Wayne McCarty, 777 director of Manufacturing.

With that philosophy in mind, the Boeing Commercial Airplanes Joint Leadership team is aggressively pursuing hole-quality improvement. Encompassing Operations, Quality Assurance and Engineering, the team's focus is on eight business elements that have the highest leverage in reducing hole defects, addressing all aspects of the hole-creation process, from engineering definition through inspection.

Once implemented, the resulting standard reliable work processes will improve quality, eliminate variation and reduce unit cost. The target is to provide processes and equipment that are robust, reliable and repeatable.

This ties in directly with another key aspect of the Quality Management System—accountability. The desired end-state of the quality management system is to have a team of employees—empowered through Lean—to say, "No, this isn't right. We must fix this."

Lean ultimately is an enabler to achieving better quality. Currently, quality inspection is a significant part of the flow of building a product. Processes such as inspection take up flow time. Making parts two or three times to get them right also consumes flow time. This means poor quality is a form of waste taking up flow time. One drives the other.

As a result, Lean manufacturing and other tenets of the Boeing Production System enable Commercial Airplanes to focus on building its products better, faster and cheaper—but most of all better.

A license to build

The Boeing Production Certificate is the central element that keeps Boeing building jets.

"In essence, the production certificate is the document that gives us permission to build airplanes," Postel said. "It signifies the fact that we have the necessary quality standards and processes in place to safely and properly build commercial airplanes."

Boeing has had a production certificate for nearly 54 years, and the original current certificate hangs in Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Alan Mulally's office in Renton, Wash.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issues a production certificate to a manufacturer after the company demonstrates it has adequate facilities and quality-control systems in place to ensure it meets stringent safety and reliability requirements.

Boeing is making efforts to do this and do it consistently through its Quality Management System.

Based on AS9100, an international standard for quality, the QMS meets compliance requirements through continuous improvement and executive involvement. More than just metrics, QMS is both a quality system and a management system. The quality system ensures total customer satisfaction and "doing it right the first time."

employee drilling holesThe management system ensures the requirements, processes, tools and capabilities to produce a product consistently are in place. It also ensures employees are engaged and take responsibility for producing quality products and proactively seek opportunities to improve their processes.

"QMS is designed to ensure that we have the right environment in place to use the right processes, methods and metrics to consistently produce the highest quality products and services," Postel said.

Ultimately, in order to keep its production certificate, Boeing must regularly demonstrate it adheres to specific and stringent standards of quality.

"Boeing is monitored by the FAA—and Boeing monitors itself—to ensure its parts-manufacturing and production processes are safe and reliable," Postel said.

Working together

Both Manufacturing and Quality are working together on ways to streamline quality processes and improve the Boeing production system.

For example, the Verification Acceptance Planning process is an effort currently under way in Quality to perform only those inspections that actually add value to the production process. As Commercial Airplanes Quality Assurance currently performs more than 60,000 inspections in the production system, the Verification Acceptance Planning process helps inspectors determine how each of those inspections adds value to the process.

"It's like the story of the woman who always cut the ends off the ham before cooking it," Postel said. "When her young daughter asked why she did that, she said it was because her mom always did it. Curious, the woman then asked her mom, who said it was because her mom always did it. When the woman asked her grandmother why she always cut the ends off her ham, she said 'it was because that was the only way I could get it to fit in the pan I had.'

The enigma behind Six Sigma

One of the methodologies helping Boeing Commercial Airplanes meet the challenge of change is Six Sigma. Six Sigma aids manufacturers in their quest to design, build and deliver near-perfect products by reducing defects and variation, and improving quality, resulting in substantial cost savings.

Specifically, Six Sigma refers to manufacturing processes that produce a level of quality at 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Most U.S. companies operate at a rate of 66,807 defects per million, or "3.0 Sigma."

"We're committed to following the Lean roadmap we've established—reducing variation and increasing quality—and embedding quality into our production system," said Steve Westby, vice president of Manufacturing for Airplane Programs. "The central idea behind Six Sigma is that if you can measure how many defects you have in a process, you can figure out systematically how to eliminate them and get as close to zero defects as possible. Six Sigma is a useful tool to help us find root causes of quality issues."

Since 1999, Boeing Commercial Airplanes has participated in numerous pilot projects using Six Sigma principles. Focusing intently on the customer, this data-driven way to manage variation in manufacturing and managing business processes also is relentlessly focused on business metrics and cultural change. Specially selected experts undergo extensive training and become certified as "green belts" or "black belts" depending on the degree of training and projects completed. Currently there are dozens of projects in work across Commercial Airplanes, with more than 300 trained as green belts and nearly 60 trained as black belts.

Other Fortune 500 companies such as General Electric, IBM and Whirlpool have aggressively adopted Six Sigma methodology and strive to integrate the philosophy as part of their business culture.

For more information on Six Sigma at Boeing, visit on the Boeing intranet.

"We think many of the inspections built into the system are just like that—people do them because the people before them did them ... and for reasons that may no longer make sense," Postel said.

In the manufacturing arena, many are using a process that supports the Quality Management System, called Self-Inspection and Acceptance. SI&A gives an employee who makes a product or performs a task the tools, training, and responsibility to measure and review the product or task to determine conformance to requirements.

Where do we go from here?

One of The Boeing Company's core competencies is detailed customer knowledge. Commercial Airplanes prides itself on its relentless focus on the customer and strong working-together relationships. But there's always room to do better.

"Our vision is detailed customer knowledge," Westby said. "We need to know customers better than they know themselves. And we know they want quality built in to every airplane we deliver. Only then can we make our products even better and continue to lead the market place."

As Commercial Airplanes continues to improve on existing design/build systems and processes, it also needs to learn more about how customers are using its products, and how those products perform.

"We need to partner even more closely with our customers, collect and analyze in-service delivery metrics," Westby said. "We need to continue to lower initial and operational costs of our products, and make the products our customers want."

Postel agrees, and takes it a step further.

"We must match up customer metrics with quality metrics," she said. "We need to continuously plan, do, check and act with our manufacturing processes. This drives us toward improvement in the context of customer satisfaction: faster deliveries of a better, cost-effective product."


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