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Thu Jan 24, 2013, 09:49 PM

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and the Decline of Innovation


(Bloomberg Businessweek) By the standards of commercial airplanes, the Boeing 787 was supposed to be a modern marvel. Its carbon-fiber body and new electrical system give it a reduced weight, which allows it to burn 20 percent less fuel than the midsize airplanes it’s meant to replace. The interior cabin features cathedral-like archways to reduce the sense of claustrophobia and enlarged windows that dim at the touch of a button. Because of the new, stronger composite materials, the cabin can also be maintained at higher pressure and humidity, so travelers feel fresher at landing. The airplane even has a soaring name, the Dreamliner, the winning submission in a naming contest held on America Online 10 years ago.

Now the Dreamliner has turned into a nightmare for Boeing (BA) and the airlines that paid a list price of more than $200 million per airplane. It suffered problems typical for new planes, ranging from brake malfunctions to computer glitches. On Jan. 16, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the fleet after the battery on a 787 that had just landed in Boston caught fire and another produced a fault that forced an emergency landing by an All Nippon Airways flight bound for Tokyo, with the passengers evacuating via inflatable slides.

The grounding of the 787 was in many respects inevitable for a project marked by missed opportunities, narrowed visions, and, yes, dreams deferred. It’s also a dispiriting example of the shrinking tolerance for risk among corporate executives and government regulators, which is stifling innovation and threatening America’s competitive edge. “I often wonder, if society existed as it does today with the media, politicians, and lawyers and managers focused on not missing earnings by two cents per quarter, whether we would have made the advances of the past,” says Bob Bogash, who retired after a 30-year career at Boeing and now writes a blog about aviation, rbogash.com.

The skies have long been a showcase for America’s genius for invention. More often than not, Boeing, founded in 1916 on the shores of Seattle’s Lake Union by a lumberman named William Boeing, was right in the thick of it. During World War II, the B29 Superfortress had a pressurized cabin and remote-control guns. The 707 ushered the U.S. into the Jet Age in the 1950s, and the 747, introduced in 1970 as the world’s first wide-bodied aircraft, revolutionized long-haul air travel. All of these efforts had teething problems even worse than the 787’s. Bogash recalls that “the 747’s windshields used to crack so often that when I was based in Honolulu as a field service engineer I had two spares in my home garage, just in case.” And yet each time, Boeing made the necessary fixes and plunged ahead with the next big bet. ................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-24/boeings-787-dreamliner-and-the-decline-of-innovation#r=rss



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Arrow 11 replies Author Time Post
Reply Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and the Decline of Innovation (Original post)
marmar Jan 2013 OP
virgogal Jan 2013 #1
jsr Jan 2013 #4
virgogal Jan 2013 #5
Sen. Walter Sobchak Jan 2013 #11
leveymg Jan 2013 #2
hunter Jan 2013 #3
rightsideout Jan 2013 #6
TheMadMonk Jan 2013 #7
backscatter712 Jan 2013 #8
cbrer Jan 2013 #9
Warren DeMontague Jan 2013 #10

Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 10:10 PM

1. It sounds like the pieces were snapped together like Legos to

make The Dreamliner.

Good lord !

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Response to virgogal (Reply #1)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 10:39 PM

4. Piece of cake

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Response to jsr (Reply #4)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 10:45 PM

5. Thanks for the pic,I needed the laugh.

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Response to jsr (Reply #4)

Fri Jan 25, 2013, 01:28 AM

11. That is the least of the 787's problems

Airbus has assembled planes like that for forty years.

The problem was that when Boeing decided they had to become more like Airbus and especially when it came to supply chain they skipped the most important part of the story. The Airbus consortium members were not random industrial interests that answered RFP's with the lowest bid, they were independent commercial aircraft makers. Hawker Siddeley and Aerospatiale had both independently developed and delivered commercial jets.

Boeing sought out their partners for the 787 based on the government subsidies available in a given jurisdiction. Of course had they sought out partners based on proven ability rather than subsidies they wouldn't have realized the savings the 787 was intended to maximize.

The real problem with the 787 is the program may very well never turn a profit.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 10:20 PM

2. It's not that it's a bad airplane, it's just not that much better than what it's supposed to replace

Last edited Fri Jan 25, 2013, 12:47 AM - Edit history (1)

The 787 is very conventional by contemporary standards, and not at all revolutionary. The problem with the battery packs aren't even Boeing's fault. The real problem with the 787 is that commercial jets are sold to an extremely capital intensive industry that's also a heavily subsidized, very low profit margin industry, so little advances like losing some weight by using lighter batteries to gain slightly better fuel efficiency assumes outsized importance. This is because the latest generation of aircraft don't really present much of an overall advance, or advantage over designs such as the 737 that's been flying for a half century now.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 10:35 PM

3. The world needs some social innovations...

... of the sort that make fossil-fueled transportation systems obsolete.

Imagine a world where nobody ever has to hurry, where most people walk to work, where it is common to take year long vacations every decade or so and travel around the world on comfortable high tech sailing ships and solar powered railroads, where the leisurely transportation system is considered an essential part of every such an adventure.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 11:06 PM

6. Hopefully they'll get the kinks worked out.

I know one pilot who has 28 hours in it. He said it would be a marvelous plane once they get the kinks out of it.

I used to work for Boeing, originally employed with McDonnell Douglas before the merge, and from my experience they'll get the issues ironed out and it will be a great plane. This bird is a conglomeration of international efforts so it's alot to keep track of. There was a fuel leak problem due to a number of uncommanded electrically operated fuel valves opening but that issue has been resolved.

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Response to rightsideout (Reply #6)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 11:49 PM

7. It's also an example of failing to think just one more step...

 

...ahead. What happens when failmode activates?

And really, just how did such a boneheaded failure-mode blunder get made at all, let alone in fuel valves on a plane.

It is in all likelihood a good plane. It's also probably highly representative of the limits of refinement of a basic theme that's seen little radical development in decades.

Reshaping wings to look like the fins of a humpback whale could potentially shave fuel consumption by 10% alone.

Flying wings, lifting bodies and partial bouyancy are other ideas that offer multiple percentage point improvements in efficiency.

And we can't get the bloody things out of the wind tunnel because they don't fit anyone's preconceived ideas of what planes should look like. Same fate befell the silent vacuum cleaner. By the time it was technically feasible, people damned well knew what a vacuum cleaner sounded like, and that Charlie was clearly not doing its job.

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Response to rightsideout (Reply #6)

Thu Jan 24, 2013, 11:53 PM

8. That's my impression. New planes always have glitches.

My bet is that the batteries will probably be replaced by heavier and more conventional batteries that don't explode like roman candles, and everyone will move on.

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Fri Jan 25, 2013, 12:25 AM

9. Not only is it a new plane

 

It's full of new applications of new technologies. Teething problems are expected. Even though modern computer modeling takes out many of the variables, obviously it can't get them all.

Although Mr. Bogash's remarks are thoughtful, and give an inside look at that particular aspect of the business, I think it's obvious that technical innovation does still exist in America, and if we work hard enough to get a government that invests in people, and gets out of the pocket of big business and the MIC, we can chart a course and develop even better technologies that are sustainable, profitable (in every sense of the word), and yield steps to, and for the future!

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Response to marmar (Original post)

Fri Jan 25, 2013, 12:33 AM

10. The A380 could be cool if it wasn't inevitably going to be turned into a massive cattle car.

they sell you on this:



But it always ends up being this:



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