Although just a random result of departure time, route and flight scheduling it was appropriate that the aircraft for my flight to Seoul was a Boeing 777. I was heading there to learn about Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the impact a new design technology/approach has on industry process and practice.
Several years ago I read Karl Sabbaghs book “Twenty-First-Century Jet” in which Boeing’s Alan Mulally cited the ease of assembling a Fisher Price toy aircraft model, late on Christmas Eve, being an inspiration for the design approach of a new aircraft program;
“…one thing we could really do that would add value for our aircraft customers is to make the aircraft easy to fabricate and assemble. Because if it’s easier to fabricate and assemble it means it takes less flow time, and it takes less work, and you also have less re-work because it’s easier for people to do it correctly. And I kept thinking for a long time, how do we capture the imagination of a design and an operations community.”
Then later he comments;
“Now think about this. Before you’d use a two-dimensional piece of paper and a yellow pencil and we would try to create a three-dimensional product. It’s very difficult. It’s very difficult for the mind and its a real skill just to think in two dimensions about all these parts that are really three.”
The answer was Boeings first complete “Paperless Airplane”. The 777 was the first commercial airliner that applied virtual modelling to analyse the design, assembly and operation of a complete aircraft long before it existed:
“Boeing engineers designed and electronically pre-assembled the 777 using computers. New laboratory facilities enabled the various airplane systems to be tested together as a single integrated entity in simulated flight conditions, before the first jetliner took to the air.”
The 777 Program was a milestone for Boeing. The idea is not new, especially in manufacturing, but applying virtual modelling and concurrent design to a complete project, across all disciplines and around the globe, required a change in technology, approach and attitude from all the designers, consultants, contractors and clients involved.
It was a different time, a different industry and I doubt it’s the reason Korean Airlines used that plane for that flight but, given the focus of the next few days, it was a good choice!