Keeping a close eye on the supply chain is essential to ensure raw materials are successfully converted into saleable goods, but is observation enough to succeed? Boeing’s epic Dreamliner project demonstrated that tighter integration of the supply chain constituents was absolutely essential in order for the first of the new aircraft to be delivered.
The Dreamliner was born out of a desire for greater efficiency both in the aircraft itself and in the construction process behind it. Boeing took the previously unheard of step of outsourcing the manufacture of the aeroplane components to 50 specialist subcontractors and used a central supply chain management portal to keep tabs on progress. The idea was that the components would be created simultaneously at various plants and then delivered to Boeing for final construction in a three-day window.
Such a deadline requires that members of the supply chain be working in synchronisation with each other and that they are fully informed about progress at each point. As problems arose during manufacture, partners were kept abreast with delays and developments allowing them to adjust their own processes to compensate.
The collaboration hub also allowed Boeing to keep a tight handle on supplier progress and provided a mechanism by which they could address issues with contractors as and when they arose. At certain points during the project, Boeing was forced to step in and reclaim certain responsibilities to ensure the project continued on track.
The stated goals of the Dreamliner project were impossible to achieve without close integration between suppliers, subcontractors and Boeing themselves. Close communication and working practices made the dream a reality where many industry pundits had predicted disaster.
Collaboration between suppliers has often been seen as an evil necessity, rather than a genuine route to success. The eventual success of the Dreamliner was hard won, but the lessons learned by Boeing will shape the way they work with subcontractors permanently.
How would your business benefit from tighter supply chain integration? What would you need to change to make it a reality?