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Costs driving material choice: Boeing

Keywords: Tags  Boeing, supply chain, aluminum, aluminum lithium, John Byrne


NEW YORK — New aerospace alloys like aluminum-lithium are unlikely to play a significant role in Boeing Co.’s product mix until they prove themselves a cost-effective alternative to current materials, according to a Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) executive.

John Byrne, BCA’s vice president of airplane materials, structures and supplier management, said that while the company does take an interest in the development of new alloys, these alloys have to "buy their way onto the airplane."

"If I can’t get a customer to pay for it, it’s not going on the airplane," he told attendees at the 2nd Annual Aluminum Summit in New York, hosted by AMM.

"The next opportunity for a new alloy to get large acreage on an all-new Boeing is probably in the early part of the next decade," Byrne added.

The emphasis on cost is part of a changing culture at Boeing, he said, with the entrenchment of Airbus SAS as a major competitor driving price sensitivity at the company.

"In the past when we’ve gone through rate increases, we used to have conversations internally where we’d say, ‘Cost is interesting, but scheduling is king.’ We joked that nobody got fired for going over budget, but you did for missing a delivery," he said. But that attitude has since changed at the Chicago-based manufacturer.

Byrne’s address echoed his remarks from AMM’s Aerospace Materials Conference in April (AMM, April 26), reiterating Wednesday that the company intends to be "more aggressive" with its supply chain as it targets production rate increases, which will translate into a 60-percent boost in aluminum demand by 2014.

Boeing is targeting a build rate of 63 aircraft per month by 2014, from 43 airplanes per month currently, according to Byrne.

This will mean greater pressure on the supply chain, with a week in missed deliveries on the 737 line equating to "being ten airplanes down," Byrne said.

"The aluminum mills had a history where, when we would go up in (build) rate, they would struggle with delivery performance. And it just ripples through the supply chain when we’re late," he said.

As a result, Byrne said the company now has to "act more like an 800-pound gorilla" in keeping on top of its suppliers’ operations.

"I want to know if you’ve had a press go down and it’s caused an effect in production," he said.

Byrne also reiterated the company’s previously announced goals of setting up a closed-loop raw material stream with its aluminum suppliers (AMM, March 29).

"I still don’t think parts of the industry appreciate the magnitude of opportunity there in dollars and the sustainability behaviors it drives in the supply chain," he said.

"I tell machine shops, you need to segregate and be maniacal about collecting every single chip and getting it into the mill so we can all optimize our efficiencies. We cannot accept excuses anymore—the environmental and cost situation does not allow it."


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