With a massive backlog of orders for its new 787 Dreamliner, Boeing understands that developing a leaner and more integrated supply chain is crucialRoberto Priolo speaks to two of Boeing’s UK suppliers.

In January, Boeing announced that its Renton facility had reached a production rate of 35 Next Generation 737 aircraft per month. These impressive numbers are the result of, first of all, the decision to sub-contract the manufacture of larger parts of the planes and, secondly, of the adoption of a leaner supply chain strategy.

More recently, it was the 787 Dreamliner making the headlines: the current production rate for the 787 is 3.5 planes per month, but the company hopes to reach 10 per month by the end of 2013 (at the moment there are 850 orders). French-British manufacturer Messier-Bugatti-Dowty supplies the main and nose landing gears and braking systems to the 787 programme. In its Gloucester plant, the company produces the truck beam, a component of the main landing gear.

To better respond to increasing demand from Boeing, the site layout has been changed, resulting in the creation of a high speed titanium flow line.

Matthew Taylor, production programme manager at Messier-Bugatti-Dowty, says: “Value stream mapping was one of the key tools we used in order to produce the flow line and to reduce the number of work centres each part visits, hence reducing queue time for each centre, and therefore lead time.”

The company manufactures a truck beam in eight to nine weeks. In line with value stream maps and what is considered a reasonable flow time, it organises operations in a way that helps smoothing the workload, whilst trying to plateau the rates. Taylor explains: “In a facility our size the main problem in terms of schedule is the queue time of the machine. The less machine operations we have the quicker the product goes – the flow line has helped us reduce the lead time by about 30%.”

Boeing is a good mentor when it comes to developing a relationship with suppliers. Messier-Bugatti-Dowty has dedicated supply chain improvement personnel to carry over best practice and make sure suppliers are aligned with the company’s strategy and understand the requirements. This is the same practice Boeing adopts in dealing with its own supply chain.

Bob Eady, managing director of SIRS Navigation, a manufacturer that supplies a standby compass to Boeing and other aircraft makers, agrees. Eady says: “We tend to pass an understanding of the system we work with and the knowledge we have of working with a bigger customer to our suppliers.”

Boeing represents about 10% of SIRS Navigation’s business. The company has a strong lean programme, which derives from both Boeing requirements for continuous improvement and the need to reduce costs while increasing quality.

Eady explains: “We realised we weren’t getting good yield, and identified the root causes in order to remove rejects. We were also looking at the way we processed the work, at flow, cutting down on unnecessary processes and duplication. From a planning point of view, in the first four months of this year we outputted 10% more of what we did in the same period last year, with one fewer headcount.”