Sometimes, you want to pull your hair out.
Government investigators in both the United States and Japan have been furiously trying to figure out what caused a fire aboard a JAL Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Early in the investigation, officials focused on the charred battery and then on the battery's auxiliary power unit (APU). The APU, manufactured by Securaplane Technologies Inc. in Tucson, Ariz., was quickly absolved of blame when investigators found no anomalies in the suspect unit. The latest thinking focuses on the battery cells themselves.
As the investigation continues, Boeing has already pointed the finger at its own supply chain, at least according to an investigative story in The Seattle Times. The newspaper reported this week:
Company engineers blame the 787's outsourced supply chain, saying that poor quality components are coming from subcontractors that have operated largely out of Boeing's view.
Anonymous engineers quoted in the story are blaming power panels as the probable source and noting that, while faults experienced in the 787 are not out of the range of those experienced with the Boeing 777, there has been an unusual number of electrical faults.
The Seattle Times story continues:
A senior Boeing engineer not directly involved with the 787 said he believes the company's early delegation of control on 787 outsourcing to multiple tiers of suppliers is now coming back to bite the jet program, though it made belated efforts to tighten up oversight of suppliers.
“The supplier management organization (at Boeing) didn't have diddly-squat in terms of engineering capability when they sourced all that work,” he said.
Boeing won't comment on the allegation other than to deny any lax supply-chain oversight.
Two things about this story make my head spin.
First off, the most damning information in the story is attributed to a “senior Boeing engineer not directly involved with the 787.” That should speak for itself. A jealous engineer who didn't get a plum 787 job when the project started? Or perhaps an engineer with an offshoring/outsourcing axe to grind?
Second, one of the keys to the Dreamliner project was the extensive use of the supply-chain. Like any other huge manufacturing company, Boeing has extensive procurement rules and regulations and a favored suppliers lists. So I have to believe that Boeing — no fly-by-night organization — has a pretty solid supply-chain oversight system.
Of course, there could be lax oversight, but my real point here is if the problem is traced to a supplier, it's not the supply chain's problem — it's the supplier's problem and, ultimately, an engineering problem. Electronics design and manufacturing is hugely complex and open to bugs, shorts, and faults, whether it's outsourced or done by Boeing's internal engineering.
Maybe it's just me, but let's not blame a supply chain that companies trust and rely on because of a fault along the chain. Identify the source of the problem and fix it by tightening the Q/A within that company or removing the company from the chain.
Am I nuts here? What do you think?