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OM in the News: Quality and the Dreamliner

February 21, 2012

When we discuss quality in Chapter 6, we note that there are 3 views of the term. The 1st is user-based — quality “lies the eyes of the beholder.” The 2nd is manufacturing-based–conforming to standards. And the 3rd is product-based–quality is a “precise and measurable variable”. The Wall Street Journal’s article ( Feb.16,2012), “How Dreamy is the Dreamliner”, covers all three in analyzing Boeing’s new 787, which is now in its 4th month of service and flying daily from Tokyo to Frankfurt for All Nippon Airways.

To passengers (users), the plane approaches a revolution in air travel with better cabin climate, less airsickness, reduced jet lag, and fewer headaches. The humidity level is a more breathable 10-15%, vs. 4-7% for existing planes. The cabin pressurizes at 6,000 feet vs. 8,000 feet on others. Overhead bins are 2 inches larger. Big windows help reduce motion sickness, and a new stability system makes for a smoother ride in turbulence. Cabin attendants even claim the atmosphere is much better for their skin.

From a manufacturing perspective, the body of the plane, constructed from super-strong plastics — carbon fibre composite materials — instead of aluminum, makes the plane lighter and more fuel-efficient. And the number of holes drilled in the fuselage (under 10,000 vs. 1 million in a 747) means better aerodynamics.

The products-based view of quality can claim a plane that flies at Mach .85, compared to Mach .785 for a Boeing 737. Fuel efficiency and emissions are 20% better than on a similar-sized 767.

Discussion questions:

1. Did Boeing’s continuing supply chain problems on the 787 impact the plane’s quality?

2. Which aspect of quality is most important to Boeing? To the airline  buying the 787? To the passenger?

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Andreas Wieland’s supply chain management blog for academics and managers

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