Today we had the honour of going on a VIP tour to Boeing’s Everett facilities. You may not have realised it, but chances are that you’ve flown on a Boeing aircraft before. With revenue of over 86 Billion dollars in 2013 making Boeing is one of the most successful airplane manufacturers in the world. Our first stop was actually Boeing’s last stop in their value chain, Everret’s delivery centre. This is where Boeing’s transactions are completed and customers can pick up their much awaited airplanes.
This facility is designed to make sure customers and visitors alike have what they need to feel comfortable be it food, drinks, or even office space. In fact, many customers can stay full time at the delivery centre and make good use of office space for inside meetings with their teams, or even for doing business with Boeing themselves.
It was clear that Boeing takes their security very seriously. On average a plane must go through 25 days of security checks which included the hydraulic systems, engine, software, fuel systems, and electronics. Furthermore, Boeing puts each aircraft through a number of test flights around the facility before handing it over to the customer. These are conveniently named B-flights, with B1 being Boeing’s first test flight. After these tests are passed, the plane is handed over to customers who then do their own testing (as any customer would after spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a product). These are named “C-flights” or customer flights. After these flight tests are passed, customers can leave with their planes after personal security checks and often times, a ceremony at the centre.
After a quick bite to eat and a walk around the delivery centre, we were off to the bus tour. The tour allowed us to see a variety of planes that were going through different stages of security checks. The most notable was the new 747 built solely for the Seattle Seahawks who were the winners of the Super Bowl. Donning a massive hawk logo and a dark blue “12” on the tail to signify the twelfth man, it was certainly something to feast your eyes upon. So after seeing late stage ready planes, we were on our way to Boeing’s factory to witness how Boeing puts such massive aircraft together with such efficiency. It is worth mentioning that this factory is the largest building in the world by volume, and could contain Disneyland or even the Taj Mahal within its walls.
We were shocked by the sheer scale of the factory. On the outside it simply seems like another large building, however the inside is another story altogether. One immediately feels like a small screw, of which could be seen adorning the behemoth airplanes before our eyes. Luckily enough, we were given a special VIP tour where we were allowed to actually walk the floor of the factory itself and see all the intricate processes (in contrast to the regular tour which takes place from a bird’s eye view on a balcony). This allowed us to truly appreciate and understand the huge range of complexities and challenges that Boeing faces on a daily basis to make something we often take for granted.
Observing all the signs around the building, it was once again clear that Boeing down to its core, values safety of its employees above all with its “Go4Zero” initiative. This initiative tries to eliminate workplace injuries striving for a 0 accident environment. The facilities are modelled to be like a city, providing services such as healthcare, banking, IT facilities and more. More impressively, the factory itself feels almost organic, the planes and people seem to move naturally and intuitively. The planes themselves, regardless of their massive size and weight, are moved an inch/minute along the U-shaped production process using magnetic strips as a guiding system.
What really impressed us was Boeing’s focus on redundancy, efficiency, and their complex international supply chain. Boeing’s RAT system implements a small propeller that can give power to the electronic systems and provide emergency hydraulic support in times of emergency within the aircraft. Boeing was also shocking in that many of the employees seem to be working out of sight, in small compartments within planes, in offices, and many other areas that make it seem as if much of the factory was empty save for the airplanes. Finally, Boeing’s efficient operations and complex supply chain have made it an organization that can produce thirty two 737 aircrafts in a single month, and they are planning on increasing that production to Forty two via optimized production processes.
In essence, what we gathered from this trip was that, regardless of the size of the company, innovation is a key part of business operations. Small changes can lead to large jumps in productivity and can help any company take quick steps in the right direction.
Written by Mark Wijaya, Louise Mercier, Sivansh Padhy and Maxime Pautet.
A final word: I would just like to thank everyone at Boeing for their generosity and time and in particular Christi King and Luisa Hawkins who did so much to make the visit so special for us all. Warmest wishes, Mark Thomas.