What are Boeing’s material evaluation and testing processes like?
One word – extensive. Boeing used the same rigor for testing and evaluation we have used on all of our commercial airplanes.
As an overview, we start with structural testing of the smallest parts and move up to larger and larger panels, stringers, then full-on components (full-scale wing or fuselage), then the full airplane static and fatigue testing. All of this is independent of material selection. If we are testing steel or aluminum, we go up the scale for that material. With composites however, the 787 has experienced the largest and most comprehensive structural testing program we have ever had. We have a wealth of data, something like 6 or 7 million flight hours with composites and material data from flying the 777 family. So, in moving forward, when we elected to use same material as the 777 family, data was there but the applications were different because we hadn’t built a full-scale wing out of composites. We had to supplement the database with strong service and certification. We were comfortable technically from the 777, but still had to test. To fill out the entire matrix took three to four years. Next time, presumably it will go a bit faster, because now we have more data.
What is your role in terms of working with supply chain partners?
We have worked extensively with our supply chain partners throughout the development of the 787 program. We have had many of their key technical leaders work directly with our teams on the best solutions to design needs and to manufacturing requirements. These best ideas from our partners scan the globe and are aligned with the unique and diverse strengths of our partners, such as issue quality and schedule performance. Our partners bring a wealth of experience to the table, such as quality, cost, schedule and performance expertise. Plus, they have a different perspective that helps us develop products. For example, when we were developing a one-piece barrel, the partners who were building the fuselage not only got reports, they put people in Seattle on a daily basis. The team was learning and sharing their experiences on the floor, which provided a great deal of interchange between companies. In the end, they took that cumulative knowledge back to their companies to set up productions. I think it really worked out well.
What are your criteria in deciding what partners to work with?