Will Boeing’s new “Quality Transformation” program fly?
Boeing is revamping quality inspection processes and plans to eliminate up to 900 quality inspector jobs over the next two years. The plan involves mechanics doing more checks of their own work, rather than using inspectors to verify accuracy. In addition, automated processes or tools make mechanics’ work simpler, more accurate, and faster, further reducing the number of inspections needed. Another key to the program is using sampling rather than inspecting every job for accuracy.
In December, however, Boeing’s sampling process indicated that one job category failed to meet its 95% standard, with only 93% of the sampled tasks being done correctly. Additionally, some unionized quality inspectors are concerned that quality is being compromised and that Boeing may be pressuring inspectors to make it look like the new processes are doing the job even if they aren’t.
This post is based on the Seattle Times article, Boeing’s move toward fewer inspectors is questioned following quality control audit, by Dominic Gates, February 1, 2019; and the Herald Net article, Boeing revamps quality control: More high tech, fewer humans, also by Dominic Gates, January 22, 2019. Image source: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images.
1. Where did Boeing get its inspiration for the new quality approach?
Guidance: According to the article, Ernesto Gonzalez-Beltran, VP of quality, joined Boeing 18 months ago after a long career in the auto industry at companies like Ford and Toyota. Those experiences led him to implement similar approaches to improving efficiency and quality that involve “streamlining, simplifying, and standardizing.” The motto is “built right first time,” emphasizing making parts and performing jobs correctly, rather than a heavy reliance on inspections.
Gonzalez-Beltran insists that the changes will not involve layoffs, as the company is in a growth mode and actually hiring more people. Inspectors, he says, will be moved to other jobs. Some observers wonder, however, if there will be enough vacancies for the 900 or so inspectors who are likely to be displaced.
2. How does Process Monitoring (Boeing’s sampling process) work? What happens if a job fails to pass the quality test?
Guidance: Let’s consider an example: From a total of 60,000 “Bond and Ground” jobs performed in the final quarter of 2018, Boeing chose 1,200 to examine. Of those, 93% were done correctly, while the standard that needed to be met was 95%.
Because of this failure, Boeing now has to use the old system, with quality inspectors checking jobs after they are done, until 10 consecutive planes are successfully made and all quality standards are met, a process that will take months.