The Boeing Company's 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 Boeing's PLM implementation had little to do with the Dreamliner's 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 can't account for the supply chain outside your control? In other words, when will the promise of PLM really be fulfilled?
"We're still seeing a very high fragmentation on how PLM is used, even though PLM vendors understand the vision," said IDC research analyst Joe Barkai. He says the answer is "Supply by Design," a concept for pushing PLM processes out to suppliers as a way to collaborate on 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 supplier's 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 don't think it's the tool. It's how you implement the tool in your process. Boeing sort of missed it."
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