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Supply-Chain Delays Impact 737 MAX Program

Boeing Concedes Production Rate to Ensure Quality 

Trouble in the form of supply-chain delays has beset Boeing’s beleaguered, 737 MAX program.  

A source familiar with Boeing production schedules states the 737 MAX assembly line at the company’s Renton, WA plant sat idle for a period of roughly ten-days in May as airplanes were held in position pending delivery of parts missing because of supply chain issues. According to the source, work on production line aircraft did not stop entirely, but continued to the extent possible with extant parts. 

In the past, delays in delivery of even major parts didn’t typically impede production of Boeing commercial airplanes. Rather than stopping its assembly lines, the aerospace giant rolled partially completed airplanes out of its assembly facilities and installed missing components as they arrived.

Such work is known as traveled work, since it  travels from the factory to the ramp. However, installing components out of carefully planned production sequences necessitates extensive disassembly and rework; ergo, too much traveled work engenders chaos. 

In 2018, an excess of traveled work deriving of late delivery of engines and fuselages resulted in dozens of airplanes being worked on in the field. Despite the best efforts of overworked Boeing employees, quality issues proliferated. 

Ed Pierson, a production manager at the Renton plant, informed Boeing executives of the diminished work quality he’d observed, stating in an email that for the first time in his life he was “hesitant about putting my family on a Boeing airplane.”

Pierson was ignored at the time, but the alleged May stoppage of the 737 MAX assembly line suggests Boeing may have acknowledged the veracity of his warning and seeks, perhaps, to avoid similar chaos.

Boeing Chief Financial Officer Brian West stated at an 11 May conference, “ … we slowed it down deliberately … We can’t go back to a world where we are traveling lots of work. We have to stay disciplined, and we have to drive stability.” West further stated that to achieve stability, Boeing was, “willing to slow things down, or in some cases, just pause if all the parts aren’t there.” 

Speaking at the prestigious Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun stated Boeing is still working toward a stable target rate of 31[737 MAX] jets per month. Calhoun added the MAX “is still the most labor and human resource consuming recovery that we have.”



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