consultants are sandburs

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner grounding. A simple question with a simple answer -- the question being one that the press seems disinclined to ask and for which Boeing seems disinclined to voluntarily provide its answer.

The joke when I lived in Seattle was that if a 747 were loaded with all the paperwork required by regulators it could not get off the ground. They have the answer on paper.

The question: Were the defective aircraft, or bulk of them assembled in Everett Washington, with experienced workers, or in the new 787 assembly line in South Carolina, a right-to-work [for less] state?

Rupert's Telegraph provides a timeline, this screen capture [but never expect Rupert to ask a question where his anti-labor proclivities might be handed back in ways he might dislike]:

[click the thumbnail image to enlarge and read] In Everett the workers are skilled and experienced in their hand assembly of component parts, and in labor relations; this link.

Same link, from October 2009 reports of Boeing's opening a "second 787 assembly line" in South Carolina [a right-to-work [for less] state]. Obviously a less experienced skill set there compared to the Seattle area's decades of knowing and doing "the Boeing way."

Same link reporting:

Everett is the site of Boeing's commercial aircraft division, where the company has assembled early versions of the 787.

The first flight and deliveries of the high-tech aircraft have been postponed repeatedly due to manufacturing glitches and a labor strike. A walkout by union machinists late last year forced the company to shut its commercial plane operations for eight weeks. Labor relations were considered key to Washington state's bid to keep 787 production in the state.

Besides South Carolina, states initially seen as competitors to Washington included North Carolina, Kansas, Texas and California. But Boeing said last week it had narrowed the choices to Washington and South Carolina.

An interesting thing, after earlier air and defense industry consolidation, Boeing had existing skilled workforce in place in Washington, Kansas, and California.

The other considered states, South Carolina (winning things), Texax and North Carolina are each right-to-work [for less] states.

Boeing did not go with the established, existing plant/workforce sites.

Go figure.

For further reading of a general sort about the aircraft and the recent grounding, SeattlePI where it's locally important, CBS here, NDTV (a French outlet, i.e., AirBus land, publishing a Boeing-troubles timeline), reporting on the 787 final assembly process here in a trade website, the latter item linking to a photo gallery, here, with this lead pic showing the specialized shop assembly situation in a building necessarily bigger than a Walmart (really):

So, no hint in the general coverage, Everett, or right-to-work [for less] in all that coverage. However, a peep under the kimono where it's at - South Carolina - this link:

Shims are little slivers that fill gaps when larger pieces don't fit evenly together. They prevent the kind of internal movement that can be dangerous on an airplane that flies at high altitudes for decades.

Shimming is part of the standard manufacturing process, but if done improperly, one of the possible consequences is delamination, or the separation of the layers of the plane's skin.

While published reports said the shimming problem had led to delamination on assembled Dreamliners, Gunter would not confirm delamination had already occurred.

That was one problem in the chain of consequences, with the revised report dated most recently, March 2012.

Of the other flaws and problems, the press, as best as I could find, has been largely if not totally silent on where screw-ups are happening.

Lithium ion batteries are cited as the major current problem; Seattle PI reporting here and here. That would be a subcontractor-vendor problem, unless incorrectly installed, incorrectly ventilated to allow overheating, or with some regulator circuitry problem causing a battery drain rate inconsistent with engineered heat dissipation. That's best guess from the reporting. Having a brother-in-law driving a hybrid Civic, over 150,000 commuting miles already, without any Lithium ion battery problems one thinks a multi-million dollar airliner would be capable of Honda reliability. Details will emerge. One unclear thing in reporting, how exceptional is this from other new commercial aircraft launches, in terms of early release glitches? Nothing reported suggests a non-flightworthy aircraft, but if the thing is "fly by wire" the wires need juice. Battery failure is a threat. In terms of the opening question, and possible installation error with the batteries, will we learn whether this was Seattle-area assembly, or South Carolina assembly? The question seems to remain relevant unless/until battery manufacturing or design error is isolated as the sole problem.

____________FURTHER UPDATE__________
Online Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, Martin Luther King Day, Chicago Tribune carrying a news feed, opening paragraphs:


5:45 a.m. CST, January 21, 2013
U.S. and Japanese aviation safety officials investigating problems with Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner visited the headquarters of the plane's battery maker on Monday, seeking clues into why one of the technologically advanced aircraft made an emergency landing last week.

A spokesman for GS Yuasa Corp, which makes batteries for the 787, said the company was fully cooperating with the investigation, and its engineers were working with the officials from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Japan's Civil Aviation Bureau (CAB) at the company's compound in Kyoto, where it makes airplane batteries.

CAB official Tatsuyuki Shimazu told reporters the investigating team had been briefed by GS Yuasa and had toured the plant, looking at battery design, production and quality. The Japanese investigation at the plant will continue on Tuesday on a more detailed level, including tracking battery batch numbers and production dates, he said.

Authorities around the world last week grounded the new lightweight Dreamliner, and Boeing halted deliveries after a problem with a lithium-ion battery prompted an All Nippon Airways 787 into the emergency landing at Takamatsu airport during a domestic flight. Earlier this month, a similar battery caught fire in a Japan Airlines' 787 parked at Boston Logan International Airport.


U.S. safety investigators on Sunday ruled out excess voltage as the cause of the Boston battery fire on Jan. 7, and said they were expanding their probe to look at the battery's charger and the jet's auxiliary power unit. The battery is one part of the 787's complex electrical system, built by French company Thales SA.

“Results have shown the battery was abnormal in both the Boston and Takamatsu (incidents). They were the most damaged,” Shigeru Takano, a senior safety official at the CAB, told reporters ahead of the on-site visit to GS Yuasa. “We will look into if the work that took place, from design to manufacturing, was appropriate.”

Shares in GS Yuasa, valued at close to $1.5 billion, rose 1 percent on Monday, having dropped nearly 10 percent since the Boston fire. The benchmark Nikkei fell 1.5 percent.

The company, which employs nearly 12,300 staff, expects revenue of 288 billion yen ($3.2 billion) in the year to end-March - with only around 1 percent of that coming from its aircraft battery business. The company's batteries are used primarily in motorbikes, industrial equipment and power supply devices.

GS Yuasa, in which automaker Toyota Motor Corp has a 2.7 percent stake, reported an operating profit of around $160 million in the year to last March.

With Boeing having moved headquarters from Seattle to Chicago, this now is local news for the Trib.

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