Boeings Delay Raises Questions About PLM

Rolling out the aircraft manufacturer's future star was a marvel of PLM implementation. But what's the point if suppliers aren't kept in the loop?

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The Boeing Companys 787 Dreamliner was supposed to be a marvel of industrial planning and design.

It is one of the first airliners to be completely digitally designed using PLM (product lifecycle management) software, and the first-ever virtual rollout of an aircraft. Using Dassault Systems PLM software, Boeing used exact 3-D models of parts and assembly tooling to plan and layout its production lines—a process that would massively reduce rework on the 787 and dramatically increase time to market, the company said.

But on Oct. 10, before the first planes could even be built, Boeing announced a six-month delay in the initial deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner—from May to December 2008—citing supply shortages, particularly with obtaining composite materials.

Industry insiders believe Boeings PLM implementation had little to do with the Dreamliners delayed delivery. Suppliers came up short, out of sequence and/or delivered unfinished parts. But the situation begs the question: What good is PLM if it cant account for the supply chain outside your control? In other words, when will the promise of PLM really be fulfilled?

The promise of PLM software, while understood by vendors, has yet to be fulfilled by users, according to analysts.

"Were still seeing a very high fragmentation on how PLM is used, even though PLM vendors understand the vision," said IDC research analyst Joe Barkai. "Just the other day I had a discussion with Dassaults CEO. He absolutely understands the vision of PLM, but [he doesnt] want to be too innovative and create an environment that is not compatible to todays manufacturing, which is more fractured."

Supply by design

Dubbed by IDCs Barkai "Supply by Design" the concept is to push PLM processes out to suppliers as a way to collaborate a design concept along the supply chain.

"Thinking about design for the supply chain goes far beyond just having a database for suppliers. It really is the need to understand a suppliers capabilities, strategy and how that impacts design and vice versa," said Barkai.

"So while Boeing has a very robust design and practice on simulation, they failed on design for the supply chain. Where they are in the process they should not be surprised by suppliers not being able to design [composite materials] on time. I dont think its the tool. Its how you implement the tool in your process. Boeing sort of missed it."

Some vendors—namely Oracle and SAP—are working to complete the loop between supplier, engineering and manufacturing by coupling PLM software with ERP (enterprise resource planning) and SCM (supply chain planning) software. In May Oracle acquired PLM software developer Agile for $495 million. SAP too has been developing PLM software for a several years.

According to Oracle vice president of SCM Jon Chorley, to really work effectively PLM software has to touch just about every system in a company and along the supply chain—financials, ERP, SCM, SRM (supplier relationship management), CRM (customer relationship management)—and essentially reshape the way customers view product-centric processes.

"Not that you have to duplicate those processes, but you have to access and rephrase them with a product-oriented perspective," said Chorley, in a May interview with eWEEK. But influencing processes beyond the engineering department has been a tough nut to crack.

And some analysts are not convinced that business applications entrée into the PLM stack is the solution—at least not for a while. "Oracle and SAP still look at everything from the BOM [bill of materials]," said Barkai. "Dassault looks at it from the product lifecycle management position. So while Oracle and SAP will have some impact on the market, the future of PLM—the real PLM—is still with PLM [vendors]," where Dassault and UGS lead.

Define requirements early

When Boeing announced that it would delay the initial deliveries of the Dreamliner, industry watchers immediately looked for comparisons between Boeings Dassault system and that of its major rival, Airbus, which ran into major delivery delays and cost overruns with its Airbus A380 because of PLM system incompatibilities.

The companys various manufacturing facilities across Europe were using different versions of Dassaults PLM software, which in turn caused errors in engineering specifications when documents were exchanged between systems.


Oracles Agile buy could boost PLM. Click here to read more.

"The types of issues—incompatibility of different versions of Dassaults software in France, Germany and other regions—could have been overcome with good governance between design and manufacturing," said Gartner research analyst Marc Halpern. "In the case of Boeing, I dont think thats the situation. Were there problems with PLM? Yes and no."

Halpern said that PLM is not just about the supply chain, its about guiding a product through the life cycle—being able to capture and reuse the data, information and knowledge associated with the product—and being able to communicate and collaborate with that knowledge.

When he looked at the issues with Boeings Dreamliner, Halpern said that if there was any place the system didnt work, it was in defining requirements with suppliers.

"When I look at what [is being said] about the Boeing situation—that there were components missing on the inside [at the Dreamliners unveiling this summer], that work was not done by major partners before major pieces of the structure arrived in Everett—to me that is key. Some of the work done initially with suppliers is defining requirements. Frankly, if anything was broken, thats where it was broken."


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