Despite tough times, Commercial Airplanes and its engineers have
BY TOM KOEHLER
Watching the news hasn't been much fun lately for those who have a stake in commercial aviation.
Consumer confidence is low and unemployment relatively high. Stock markets are troubled. And terrorism has caused a loss of confidence in air travel.
Airlines are in the midst of a profound downturn, with many facing serious financial problems and bankruptcy. The number of unneeded, parked airplanes has risen to 2,000 the highest ever. And sales competitions, at the relatively few airlines looking for new airplanes, have never been more intense.
At Boeing Commercial Airplanes, production rates have been cut in half since September 2001, and as a result there are 30,000 fewer workers at the company, including 5,000 fewer engineers and technical workers.
Many are feeling the effects of the unprecedented economic and industry conditions, and engineers and technical workers at Commercial Airplanes people who have spent decades creating the world's aviation infrastructure are no exception.
"These are really tough times for our industry," said Hank Queen, Commercial Airplanes leader of Engineering and Product Integrity. "And understandably, members of our Engineering team are feeling pressured. Some members of our team feel as if they're under attack, and they want to strike back. Others are just plain angry, and are looking to hunker down until the storm clouds pass."
However, the Engineering team is essential to the future of Commercial Airplanes. Engineers hold the key to dramatic improvements in productivity and the quality of commercial products and services services that are essential for Boeing customers.
"We must lead the change process within our company, and we must implement these changes as quickly as we can," Queen said. "When the industry comes back, and it always does, we want to be there for our customers.
"We're working hard to develop a plan for the future that truly makes sense for everyone, and we need everyone associated with our team to help us get there," he said.
Here's a glimpse of some recent activity.
Framing the challenge
Queen believes Commercial Airplanes Engineering must develop a different model for itself that supports production demands and retains the ability to design new products and services at less total cost, while maintaining more stable employment. "We envision a future with fewer platforms, more commonality and improved cabin comfort. As that vision becomes more defined, we will be further able to describe the skills and knowledge that our team will need to work in that future. And then we can develop and implement the transition plan to get there."
Leaders in Engineering, Operations and Quality Assurance, along with representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration, union leaders from the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, and the Ed Wells Initiative (a joint SPEEA-Boeing program to further processes that promote technical excellence in the workforce) have been meeting since June to develop and hone a roadmap for the future of Engineering, within the context of the Commercial Airplanes and Boeing enterprise strategic vision.
The effort has led to the development of three objectives:
Work is underway to define the tactics and initiatives to accomplish these objectives, Queen said.
Effectively working together
Employees are critical to the company's success. As such, the Engineering organization, together with SPEEA and the Ed Wells Initiative, has been working for the past several years on an integrated "People Plan." Elements of the plan include utilization, internal communication, organizational alignment, training, knowledge retention and transfer, virtual teaming, coaching and mentoring, compensation, workforce development, diversity, leadership development, skill teams, process improvement, ethics and technical excellence.
In addition, in an effort to bolster efforts at improving strategic partnerships, the organization recently named Jerry Mack, who had been working in governmental affairs for Boeing in Washington, D.C., as the organization's Government and Industry Technical Liaison.
Achieving competitive advantage
Carol Fleming, Commercial Airplanes leader of Supplier and Industry Engineering, said a lean, global enterprise is critical to the company's future success, and there are significant competitive advantages gained by having strategic engineering partnerships.
"Strategic partnerships allow people within Engineering to focus on the work that provides the best value to the enterprise, access to markets, access to intellectual resources," Fleming said. "Efficiency gains, such as cost and cycle time reductions enabled by better alignment of the value stream, and an ability to better address capacity surges also provide advantages."
In addition, Fleming said work is under way to assess competencies to better utilize Engineering knowledge, skills and abilities, and to point to the people, process and tool investments to ensure a competitive edge in the future.
"For example, a current study shows that many engineers at Boeing spend about 20 percent of their time applying their engineering knowledge and judgment in their work, while data preparation and handling and overhead tasks are taking up about 65 percent of their time," Fleming said.
"We'd like our engineers to spend more time doing what they do best applying their knowledge and judgment and much less time preparing and handling data and performing simple overhead tasks that others may be able to perform more effectively and efficiently."
21st century vision for engineering
Frank Statkus, Commercial Airplanes leader of Advanced Technology, said substantial reductions in both nonrecurring and recurring costs associated with the development of new airplanes are possible but only by recognizing that engineers and technical workers "are the heart and DNA of this company.
"Our people, tools and processes have been best in class in the past, but are not competitive today," he said. "Now we're working to put in place the right technology and processes, as well as the right partnerships with people inside and outside of the company, that will enable them to again be truly successful and improve the company's competitive advantage."
Making our customers successful
Queen said much work has been accomplished this year in helping airlines keep their airplanes safe and secure, including flight deck and cabin security enhancements. In addition, he said Commercial Airplanes is actively designing a new family of airplanes.
"Boeing is going to design, sell and deliver a new airplane," Queen said. "We are in the process of deciding what that will be, but 'nothing' is not one of the options. The technology developed over the past 18 months gives Boeing the flexibility to find the right solution that provides value to the industry customers, passengers, our company, and our suppliers. It'll also give our Engineering team opportunities to do what they came to Boeing to do: create."
Examples of some of the important development work being done at Boeing were on display at the Technology Exposition and Exchange in Renton, Wash., on Sept. 26. Check the Oct. 1 Special Feature section of Boeing News Now on the intranet for a feature on the technologies shown there.
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