Part II of our interview with Boeing Chief 787 Project Engineer Tom Cogan with DN Editor-in-Chief John Dodge focuses on how the company organized to design and make dreamliner components using partners from around the world.
focuses on new technology in the plane.
DN: What do you do as 787 chief project engineer?
Cogan: I’m responsible for the airplane from a safety standpoint. The chief project engineer at Boeing always has that responsibility. Beyond that, I have responsibility for making sure the design of the airplane and engineering disciplines are integrated and that the airplane is meeting the targets and goals we have set forth from a technical standpoint.
DN: Give a brief history of the 787’s development.
Cogan: The project started around 2000 with the Sonic Cruiser, (which started) the development of technology we are using on 787. In other words, we had identified the technology that could be used on a new middle of the market airplane. At first, we explored how we might be able to make it fly faster for the same fuel burn as today’s market, but it became clear that an efficient airplane would be a better solution. So in December 2002, we announced we were going to cease working on the Sonic Cruiser configuration and put all of our efforts into an airplane called the 7e7 (which became the 787). The roll-out is slated for July 8 or 7-8-7. We’ll get it into the air a few months after that - in the August September timeframe. We fly the plane when it’s ready, so even though we have dates that we target, we carefully monitor our testing to make sure when the airplane flies, we can fly it safely. The first delivery will be in May, 2008.
DN: You have key suppliers which did a lot of design and since you’re charged with the integration of all this technology, walk me through the organization and the process of designing the plane when the lion’s share is being done outside Seattle. And summarize the stable of key suppliers.
Cogan: That’s a great question. It’s on the order of a couple of dozen direct suppliers to Boeing, but beyond that there’s multiple tiers and a large supply chain (final assembly is managed by New Breed Logistics) of companies that actually build parts of the 787. From a structures’ standpoint, there’s key suppliers – Mitsubishi, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Subaru (Fuji Heavy Industries), Alenia in Italy, Vought in Texas and Spirit in Wichita … quite a large number of companies. There’s a couple of keys logistically in how you integrate an airplane when you have companies around the world working on it. One was starting with the development of airplane (when) we brought all of those suppliers to Seattle where the airplane program was located and worked together on maturing the technology for production. We were getting to know each other, understanding the issues, setting the requirements for design to and establishing the foundation. Key to that was having a single design system we could all use in real time from every point around the world. That’s the CATIA V5 suite of tools from Dassault Systèmes.
DN: Did that ensure that no one fell behind and that the plane was not held up by one key component?
Cogan: It does not ensure that. What it ensures is that everyone is working on the same design at the same time. (CATIA V5) includes very sophisticated audio video systems to allow real-time meetings so we can have a design meeting with participants from around the world looking at the same data. We bring computer models of the airplane so everyone sees what’s happening in real time. If we change the design, everybody, real time, sees that change occurring. When we’re not all online at the same time and are designing independently, we are still working off the same database and models, so if someone in Japan goes in and makes a change to a computer model, a person in Europe or the U.S. sees the latest evolution of that design when they pull it up.
DN: How do you layer the organization from a personnel standpoint?
Cogan: When we set up the organizational structure, we set up what we call volume teams or Life Cycle Product Teams (LCPT). There’s two different categories of teams (one is vertically focused while the others works across the vertical groups). We broke the airplane up into like products, so, for example, there is a team that has responsibility for the wings, the vertical tail, horizontal stabilizer and the landing gear.
DN: Is that one team?
Cogan: That’s one team which we call Wings, Empennage (the tail) and Landing Gear. They have design and manufacturing responsibility for those components and for delivering them for final assembly to Seattle. We have another that’s responsible for the propulsion package. That’s the integration of the engines with the Nacelles (engine housing) and the struts which attach the Nacelles and engines to the wing and also the auxiliary power unit which is the small turbine engine in the back end of the airplane that supplies electrical power. The third major volume team is the Fuselage team, which was both the fuselage and interior. We have since split them up because the Fuselage team is finishing its work and the interiors team still has some work to do as they design the specifics interiors for customers. The Fuselage and Interiors team have responsibility for the entire fuselage of the airplane. We very deliberately call them LCPTs because they have responsibility for the life-cycle cost of their product. When we design the airplane, we look at changes in the context of what does it mean for the net present value over the life cycle of the airplane, counting what it costs the airlines to operate it (Boeing offers a 787 life-cycle management service for customers called GoldCare) to and what it costs Boeing to build it. Each LCPT has a team leader, an engineering leader, a manufacturing leader, finance and business leader and the fifth is the global partners. It’s like a small company. Each has responsibility for the design, production and delivery of their product on schedule and on cost to the program. So these are little companies within the bigger program.
DN: How many people on a team?
Cogan: That’s really hard to say because we do not have dedicated resources (to the 787) in all cases. There’s some who spend 70 percent, 50 percent or 10 percent or 2 percent. It’s really hard to put a number on it. Each team is different depending on their product. The Propulsion team, as you would expect, is smaller than the Wings and Fuselage teams.
DN: Is it several hundred people?
Cogan: Oh no, it’s more than that. They are fairly large teams and include partners. The Fuselage team includes the partners like Spirit, Kawasaki, Alenia and Vought. They have their own teams and they are all part of that Fuselage LCPT. So, it’s not just the Boeing people.
So those three teams (Wings, Fuselage w/ Interiors spun-off and Propulsion) are what we call the volume teams. Then we have some other LCPTs. One is the Systems team which is responsible fort the architecture, testing and the systems that go into the airplane. The Systems team works across the (other) LCPTs because they have to make sure the systems architecture for hydraulics, electrical and other systems on the airplane are integrated. There’s a Final Assembly and Delivery team which is responsible for putting this airplane together. Their major work is starting earnest shortly as we begin final assembly of the airplane. Again, they cross all the (other) LCPTs. Those three (vertical) LCPTs deliver their product into final assembly where it all gets integrated and built into the airplane. The third team that works across is the Services team that requires input from all the LCPTs. For example, the input for the structural repair manual, which is one of the many, comes from managers in the volume teams. The last team is the one I manage as chief project engineer and that’s called the Services and Integration team. One of my job responsibilities is to make sure everything gets integrated. Besides myself, we have manufacturing, business and global partners leaders. The team I run is the unique in that I am both the engineering leader and the project leader.
DN: What are biggest challenges in making all of this work?
Cogan: The challenge and benefit are actually one in the same. The benefit is twofold. One is the ability to do around-the-clock design. Engineers in Europe can be working on solving some specific challenges and about the time they are finishing their day, engineers in the U.S. at Vought or Spirit or here in Seattle can pick up that design and continue to mature the work. By the time we finish our day, the folks in Japan, Australia and (elsewhere) in Asia start their work. You really have around the clock design on the airplane. That’s one of the benefits and I’ll get back to the other in a second, but the challenge with that is the first time you have attend a meeting at two in the morning, you start to appreciate what around-the-clock design means. It means that you don’t always work a normal shift. Sometimes, you have to get up early in the morning or stay up very late at night to participate in a meeting. You quickly learn to deal with it and it’s part of the fun of having an international team. The other big benefit is having the intellectual knowledge from around the world on a project like this. The 787 is what it is because of the partners that have knowledge, expertise and ideas that allow us to use currently available technology to its greatest advantage.
DN: How much development time did knock off the 787 with around-the-clock development compared to the 777 or 767?
Cogan: This program is something on the order of a year less development than what we spent on the Triple Seven. But it’s a bit hard to answer. When you look at the amount of technology we’ve incorporated on this airplane – composites in the fuselage and wings, which has never been done for an airplane this size, electric air conditioning, electric ice projection and electric brakes – there’s a lot of things that are new to our industry for commercial jet this size. The time spent to do this program is a bit less than our last plane, the Triple Seven. It also depends on where you measure when the plane was launched. (Was it) when the first customer bought it or the firm configuration? There’s different points.
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