Here’s my take on why the Dreamliner is two years (and counting) late and putting significant stress on Boeing finances:
1) Underestimation of the significant technical hurdles faced with the conversion to a plastic composite structure. No structures larger than boat hulls had previously been built from composites. Big questions loomed on tools, autoclaves, and assembly methods. Previous composite structures primarily used glass reinforcement-not carbon fiber.
2) At the same time Boeing moved from a highly controlled internal command and control structure to a globally outsourced design and manufacturing system. That would have been a challenge even if the Dreamliner used conventional-not revolutionary-technology.
3) Overly optimistic distribution of financial risk. Boeing reduced its exposure by expecting key contractors such as Vought to take on the responsibility of financing huge autoclaves and other manufacturing infrastructure. Most took on the responsibility to make sure they weren’t left out on one of the most important aircraft manufacturing ventures of the time. Vought bailed out this year, selling its South Carolina plant to Boeing.
4) Poor supply chain fundamentals. The first big delay for the Dreamliner came when domestic plants couldn’t meet demand for even standard fasteners used in the Dreamliner. Plant capacities had been slashed during economic weakness in 2002-2003. Simple communication tools -like the telephone-could have helped avoid this communications gaffe.
Please comment here on what you think the problems were.