Thursday, November 21, 2013

Boeing Charleston workers being unfairly criticized for slow deliveries

Boeing has reached its 2013 goal of assembling the 787s at a rate of 10 per month which is split between Everett and Charleston 8 to 2.  Guidance given by Boeing last year indicated that when they have reached this rate that the production would be split 7 to 3.  It was a surprise to everyone when it was revealed by Charleston based Boeing executives a few months ago that Charleston rate is at 1.5 and that they wouldn’t reach the 3 per month rate until sometime in the first quarter of 2014. 

People started to question why that was and many observers claimed that it was because the skill set and experience of manufacturing technicians (MT) at Charleston were not at the level of those at Everett.  Certainly the new MTs at Charleston had a learning curve to climb but can they be blamed for the lower rate of output at Boeing Charleston?

All things being equal the MTs have the same basic skill set as those at Everett. Where everything is not equal is the amount of experience the Charleston MTs have vs. those in Everett.  Certainly with time the Charleston MTs will be just as skillful at putting together the 787s as those in Everett.

For one thing Charleston only works two shifts on one assembly line while Everett work three full shifts on two lines.  Additionally Boeing is limiting the amount of overtime that the Charleston MTs work while there isn’t any known restrictions to the Everett workforce.

They also have very demanding customers who are observing every facet of assembly of their aircraft like Qatar Airways.  To top it all off, there are about 3 to 5 QT’s (Quality Technicians) to sign off on the work that was done per the FAA’s PC-700 production certificate.  MT’s have to wait sometimes up to 2 hours for a QT to inspect and sign off on the work that was performed.  Sometimes the Charleston workers have to hunt, scrounge for or have one of the shop workers fashion the appropriate tool in order to get a particular job completed to spec and to customer satisfaction.

In time, the Charleston line will be producing and delivering the three aircraft per month that is expected and I don’t doubt that when Boeing goes to 14 per month, the additional 4 airplanes will be coming from Charleston. However I feel that people are unjustly criticizing the SC plant and in particular, are being unfair to the techs that are building the 787s.


Capt747ret said...

Thank you for this post. I totally agree.

Andrew Boydston said...

Great observations and informatiion. The workforce maturity in Charleston will continue to evolve by default as it progresses towards ststed goals. Everett has had a lifetime intrinsic value from its workforce as a knowledge skill set. The on-the-job experience will continue as part of the "always improving mantra" from quality management of doing the job meeting and exceeding specification. Charleston is on the cusp of emerging a critical component for Boeing.

Shawn B said...

Apparently there are some misconceptions on how things are running in Everett. First of all the main reason the skill level in Everett is better is because we've been building airplanes for the last 70 years. Also, yes overtime is limited in Everett, I'm not going to go into detail, but there are restrictions as well. Also, Everett has the same customers as Charleston and more, so using that as an excuse is BS. As far as the QA to MT ratio, Everett deals with those lack of numbers as well, and wait times for buy offs and EPDs can take hours sometimes days, depending on the issue or priority of the plane. These "excuses" are not justified as Everett deals with some of the same problems, yet are still delivering double the numbers.

Capt747ret said...

I think we need to take a look at the reality of production between C and E.

B has stated that C will be producing 3/month by the end of ’13. B now is saying that this rate will not be achieved until sometime in the first quarter of ’14.

I would like to know when B first used the end of ’13 date and compare it to the latest delay to sometime in the first quarter of ’14. My guess is that the goal projection was a lot further out then this latest refined projection.

In the life of a major production effort this slide is relative small.

E has 3 shifts/day vs. C at 2. If all shifts worked a standard 40 hour work week and all employees have the same experience level then C is only capable of achieving 67% of E on a single production line comparison.

Unless C adds another shift the 3/mo is asking C to produce at a rate faster per shift than E. If C adds another shift then their production capability would rise by 50%.

Being that C is producing now at a rate of 1.5/mo a 50% increase would bring them to 2.25/mo.

Would anyone care to quantify what the unlimited overtime that E enjoys would do to C’s 3 shift rate?

Maybe the delay is getting the 3rd shift up and running and not the quality of their workers.

Uresh said...

Charleston is at about 2/month right now. It appears they are loading 1 frame every 14-15 days.

steven pappas said...

While I believe SC will increase production, the labor force is sometimes behind the curve due to the poor education system in South Carolina. I lived there for 7 years and the schools were far behind when compared with schools in the north. The local line was, "thank God for Mississippi" as they were 50th in education and South Carlina was 49th.
Many good people there and when given enough time and training, they will come up to speed.
I also would imagine that the airlines prefer to have Washington build their aircraft as opposed to South Carolina, but as the frames come off the line and the quality is equal, the site of manufacturing will fade as a notheyanconcern.

Capt747ret said...

Each line at E is producing 3 frames per month.
Each line at E has 3 shifts per day.

The single line at C produces 2 frames per month per Uresh.
The single line at C has 2 shifts per day.

I’m having trouble finding the disparity.

Then I’m also having difficulty figuring how the 3 shifts per day at E produces 3 frames per month with unlimited overtime while there is no overtime at C.

Rene Rosales said...

Capt 747, when put in that light, it actually makes the Charleston workforce look pretty good comparably.

John E said...

Steven, you're right in that the education system in SC is not the best, but that doesn't affect Boeing. For starters, Boeing has stringent hiring standards. Also, most of the school districts in the metro area have many high-performing schools. It's the rural schools that drag down the test scores. Lastly, many northerners have moved down specifically to work at Boeing.

I'll also make the point to Shawn B that even with Everett's 70 years experience, they still seem to be responsible for over 90% of the defects that have been in the news. Also, the machinists in Washington showed how brilliant they are with their vote on the new labor agreement for the 777X!