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Boeing has customers lining up to buy its aircraft, with a backlog of 3,600 commercial orders worth $271 billion. Its problem has been getting planes built and delivered.
In an ongoing effort to improve its product development process, Boeing is standardizing on Siemens' Teamcenter product life-cycle management software, a move that affects tens of thousands of employees, mostly engineers. Boeing has used Siemens PLM for more than a year on some newer projects, but now it plans to make it the de facto software for managing data related to each part and every engineering change for commercial and military aircraft, including replacing legacy product life-cycle management systems used for older model aircraft.
It's a big move from the status quo at Boeing, which has customized an IT and manufacturing infrastructure around each new aircraft model. That approach sets up silos of development and hinders global collaboration. "Big companies like Boeing are very serious about going forward with as much commonization and standardization solution sets across as many products and programs as soon as they can," said Dick Slansky, a PLM analyst with ARC Advisory Group and a former Boeing engineer, in an interview. "They need to bite the bullet now with significant migration issues, rather than continue to go forward with all the disparate systems for every airplane out there."
The Siemens move won't address Boeing's biggest current problem: the new Dreamliner 787, a more fuel-efficient passenger jet that's running 15 months behind schedule, and for which Boeing holds 900 orders from airlines getting clobbered by high fuel prices. There's no plan to migrate the 787 work from the Dassault Systemes' PLM software Boeing's using, given the "sensitive" state of development, said Tim Nichols, managing director of PLM for aerospace and defense at Siemens, in an interview.
It's clear why the aeronautics industry, along with automotive, is among the biggest users of PLM software. There are some 2 million parts that go into each plane, Nichols said Siemen's Teamcenter -- essentially a master data warehouse that runs on an Oracle database -- holds the data on parts and materials and manages the workflow of the product development process, so that engineers working on different pieces of a project have visibility into engineering decisions such as project-wide changes to parts specifications. Some 30,000 Boeing employees already tap into Siemens PLM from their desktops, and most users of other PLM systems will be migrated over to Siemens Teamcenter, Nichols said.
Boeing declined to answer questions on whether it would link its suppliers into the PLM system, or perhaps even service providers and its airline customers. With Siemens PLM, since Boeing's building "an archive for each plane," Nichols said, service personnel could conceivably make decisions based on each plane's history.
The problems faced by the 787 show that collaborative software efforts are only one step toward process improvement.