Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Just When We Need It, Have We Lost Our Manufacturing MoJo?

 

I can’t remember ever starting out a post with the words, “I hope I’m wrong”. But, with the push to bring more manufacturing back to the U.S. (and no voice has been louder than mine), I can’t help but worry that this country has lost much of its ability to produce the products that we so desperately need. Hopefully, my fear will prove to be unfounded. However, the ongoing problems at one of our companies (one that I would formerly have termed as “elite”) do cause me concern. The company is Boeing and I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for it.

Of course, Boeing’s problems with the 737 Super Max are well known. Less well known, have been the problems with the KC-46 Tanker and these problems have an even greater potential for damage to this country and to the Boeing image. Tankers do not project a very “sexy” image compared to other aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory. They are not stealthy like the B-2 bomber nor do they have the speed of the F-22 fighter. However, there is no aircraft more vital to the mission of the Air Force than the lumbering tanker.

There are almost no missions in today’s (air) environment that can succeed without mid-air refueling. Transoceanic missions that carry material and troops and combat missions of all stripes are seldom accomplished without the assistance of tankers. Currently, our tanker force is composed of KC-135s (which debuted in 1957) and KC-10s (in service since 1981). In other words, both aircraft are much older than the men and women who are are flying them.

In 2011, the Air Force awarded the contract for the production of a new tanker, the KC-46, to Boeing. The tanker utilized roughly the same airframe as the 767 so it cannot be said that the project was starting from scratch; it might fairly be termed as an “off-the-shelf” acquisition. However, it’s safe to say that the project has devolved into a flying fiasco.

Military acquisition has always been a somewhat complicated kabuki. It usually begins with a set of specifications (written by military and civilian “subject matter experts” who may or may not have the needed expertise) that are then put out to bid to companies who will come back with their proposals and cost estimates.

Sometimes this system produces spectacular results (the SR-71 and B-2 come to mind) and sometimes the results are, shall we say, disappointing (the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the RAH-66 Comanche Stealth-Chopper). When projects fail (usually to the tune of millions, if not billions, of dollars), the final act of the kabuki begins; massive finger-pointing between the Pentagon and the defense contractor. Usually, the Pentagon will contend that the product does not work and has massive cost overruns. The contractor will counter by contending that the military demanded changes to the product that made the original concept unworkable. In many cases, both sides will be correct.

In the case of the KC-46, it has been difficult to assess blame. Needless to say, there has been an abundance of finger-pointing. To date, there have been a number of “Category 1” (the most serious) deficiencies. In one of them, it was discovered that the fueling boom (connecting from the tanker to the aircraft being fueled) had both connection and disconnection issues with certain aircraft (In a widely circulated video, the fueling boom actually hit the side of a fighter; only the fighter pilot’s quick evasion prevented a disaster.). In another, it was discovered that the cargo locks on the cabin floor of the aircraft would inexplicably come loose during flight.

The two problems that have concerned me the most, however, have been the inclusion and failure of a Remote Vision System for the boom operator and the discovery of FOD (Foreign Objects & Debris) within the inaccessible panels of the plane’s fuselage.

On the KC-135 and KC-10, the boom operator (known as the “boomer” and, in less elegant circles, the “gas passer”) is situated in the back of the aircraft where he (or she) is eyeball to eyeball with the pilot of the aircraft being fueled and immediately knows when a problem might occur. For some reason, and I do not know the reason, the boomer on the KC-46 is situated on the flight deck with the aircraft commander and pilot. From there, the boomer controls the fueling boom through a video screen (with remote cameras being mounted at the rear of the aircraft). This system has been a nightmare; Boeing has been unable to resolve the problems in which the cameras fog over (not to mention problems with night refueling) and appears to be blaming the problems on a third-party vendor.

It has been estimated that this aircraft will not be fully operational until at least 2024. This means that since the contract was awarded to Boeing in 2011, it will have taken at least 13 years for the aircraft to be deployable. Although some of the aircraft have been designated as suitable for non-combat roles (most of which involve refueling over the continental U.S.), the Air Force will be stuck with using the ancient KC-135s for at least the next four years. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that our aircrews deserve better than this.

Although I was not a pilot, I pay attention to what they have to say when it comes to vital issues such as mid-air refueling. Though I have read several comments concerning the KL-46 project, one of the best comes from a retired O-6 fighter jock,

“Ask yourself this: Would you like to be refueled by a system that requires multiple cameras and have any one of them go inoperable while on the boom? What about when the tanker goes through the clouds and the receiver is on the boom? And don’t tell me that it hasn’t happened because it’s against regulations, because there isn’t a fighter pilot out there that has not had that happen to him or her when a tanker went through the clouds and they stayed on the boom to get the gas they desperately needed to complete the mission. The same goes for the other platforms that are receivers. It happens all the time. Nothing beats the boomer with Mark One Eyeball when you need fuel, especially at night…The Air Force was told numerous times that this would not work, yet they proceeded to have it placed on the platform. Memories are short in the Pentagon. Do we need a refueling boom through the cockpit of an aircraft to bring the point home?”

As is usually the case, with bureaucracies such as the Military, those (in uniform) who were in on this catastrophic screw-up have long since retired and have moved on to lucrative civilian careers leaving it up to others to clean up the mess. The latest piece of idiocy that I have heard on the subject was a proposal by the Air Force Chief of Staff to outsource some of the refueling mission (strictly non-combat) to private contractors. Make of that what you will.

To me, the second problem (FOD in the interior panels of the aircraft) is just as problematic, even though it was more easily resolved. It has to be asked; just how does debris, trash, nuts and bolts, and other objects get left inside an aircraft? When I first learned of this, I immediately thought about the huge GM assembly plant outside of Youngstown, Ohio. In the early 1970s, it was discovered that disgruntled auto workers were putting objects such as soda bottles and tools inside door panels which were then welded shut. Naturally, this would cause rattles which would force auto owners to return their cars to dealerships (probably multiple times) to diagnose the problem. (I suspect this is when many car owners decided to make the switch to Japanese models.)

However, in this instance, we’re not talking about a Chevrolet Vega; we’re talking about a multimillion-dollar aircraft. The average Boeing assembly line worker makes $26.00 per hour and they’re putting FOD inside the walls of the aircraft they’re building? (This was not only on the military side of Boeing’s house; a 787 was actually delivered to another country with a ladder and a string of lights welded inside the aircraft.).

What has happened to this crown jewel of American manufacturing? I suppose there are a number of theories. I believe that it was on this website, that I read a post concerning the many problems of the 737 Super Max. Clearly there was, and is, a corporate culture that enables screw-ups like these to occur on a regular basis. It appears to have been occurring on specific projects (so far, the CST-100 Starliner appears to be OK), so I don’t think that it’s fair to write off the entire corporation. Still, these massive failures are troubling. Is this the same company that produced such successes as the B-29 and the B-52?

Of course, there was another familiar kabuki that played out at Boeing. Their CEO (Dennis Muilenburg) was fired but to ease his pain and suffering he walked out the door with sixty million dollars in his pocket. Evidently, failure does come with a price. But, how does that clean up a company that appears to be satisfied with mediocrity from the boardroom all the way down to the assembly line?

To be sure, there have been a number of glaring examples of modern corporate ineptitude and corruption: Enron, Worldcom, Sears; the list is long and the reasons are numerous. Of course, the issues with corporate leadership are worrisome but what worries me the most are the twin issues of midlevel (managers and directors) incompetence and worker ineptitude. Simply put, do we now have a workforce that is swiftly becoming a laughingstock?

It’s no secret that we have outsourced everything except the kitchen sink. We’ve heard the familiar reframe that, because of the realities of the “new global economy”, we have no recourse except to ship our manufacturing capabilities to other countries. At least that’s what our oh-so-bright MBAs tell us and everyone knows they’re the “best and brightest”, right?

But, on a deeper, more visceral level, what has that done to us? For one thing, it has been a factor in the steady shrinkage of America’s middle class. It used to be that American factory workers (auto workers, steelworkers, etc.) were the envy of the world. Yes, an argument can be made that, thanks to the greed of labor unions, many industries “priced themselves out of the market”. However, that paints an incomplete picture. At one time, “American Made” still meant something and “Made in Japan” and “Made in China” were synonymous with cheap, shoddy quality.

So what happened? Certainly, the quality of American products slipped in the 1970s (and perhaps earlier). Some time back I ran across an interview with J.D. Power (yes, that J.D. Power) in which he mentioned that the only people he could sell his service to initially were the Japanese automakers and that the Japanese couldn’t get enough of his customer research. When Power attempted to sell his service to American automakers, he was met with a haughty, “We already know what the American auto buyer wants”. Needless to say, the American automakers didn’t have a clue.

But American business leadership wasn’t the only problem. At the same time, the quality of the American labor force began slipping in a number of areas; among them a strong work ethic, honesty, and ambition. I believe that the area in which the American worker has deteriorated the most is education. Simply put, the last two generations of Americans that have come out of our high schools and colleges (as a group) cannot compete on the world stage.

In the last few weeks, there have been excellent posts on this website by @ontheleftcoast and @henryracette dealing with the state of American education. I would add to their posts that, except for a few islands of excellence, American high schools and many universities are fetid, festering dumpster fires that have become a complete waste of taxpayer dollars and have produced “graduates” who are unable or unfit to perform the job duties that future employers might task them with.

It goes without saying that I do not blame American students for their scholastic ineptitude. I suspect that many of our “underachievers” would thrive if they were put into the right learning environment. However, the American “educational mafia” seems determined to destroy an educational system that was once respected throughout the world. Although I could probably come up with thousands of names for my “Educators Hall of Shame”, I choose to highlight only two individuals. If they are not the worst, they are certainly in the top ten.

The first is Richard Carranza, the New York City Schools Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. Carranza, appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, has made it his life’s work to “flatten the curve” in New York City schools by attempting to institute a “one size fits all” methodology in city schools. Do you have a gifted child; one who could benefit from advanced learning classes? That’s too bad, according to Carranza. Your child can sit in class and be bored with the rest of the knuckleheads. After all, isn’t that what diversity is all about?

The second, and possibly the worst figure in American education, is Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Weingarten, a buddy of Hillary “It Takes a Village” Clinton, has consistently pursued policies that have ensured that American kids will always be behind their counterparts throughout the world. Classroom competency? Not a problem; Ms. Weingarten’s main concern is that teachers, “infuse social justice ideals in their classrooms every day”.

With an educational system such as this, how will this country ever produce the labor force we need to fill not only the upper-level jobs but the manufacturing jobs that are now being performed overseas? Plainly, today’s system is not working and is probably incapable of reforming itself.

Over 60 years ago, with the USSR’s launch of Sputnik, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act to bolster high-quality teaching and learning in science, mathematics, and foreign languages. However, in today’s political environment, it is doubtful that something like this could be accomplished. The stakes are too high to do nothing; however, that is exactly what I fear is going to happen.

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  1. Guruforhire Member

    friggin’ Agile is what happened.

    • #1
    • May 30, 2020, at 2:43 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. Flicker Coolidge

    Guruforhire (View Comment):

    friggin’ Agile is what happened.

    Agile?

    [Agile: Agile software development comprises various approaches to software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customer(s)/end user(s).]

    Oh. Agile. I knew that.

    • #2
    • May 30, 2020, at 3:28 PM PDT
    • Like
    • This comment has been edited.
  3. Mark Camp Member

    CACrabtree: But, with the push to bring more manufacturing back to the U.S. (and no voice has been louder than mine), I can’t help but worry that this country has lost much of its ability to produce the products that we so desperately need.

    After reading and thinking for while about what general causes determine the wealth of nations, I’ve become convinced that this material well-being is promoted by respect for individual property rights, and not by the political class “pushing” individuals to behave according to the former’s preferences.

    Based on what I’ve learned, if you want the US to have a better general standard of living, you should

    • stop pushing others to use run their lives according to your beliefs about what is good for them
    • start respecting the rights, and the abilities, of others with respect to how they choose to make a living
    • pursue your own self-interest, by determining how to create value for others through voluntary agreements.

     

     

    • #3
    • May 30, 2020, at 3:28 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. EODmom Coolidge

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    CACrabtree: But, with the push to bring more manufacturing back to the U.S. (and no voice has been louder than mine), I can’t help but worry that this country has lost much of its ability to produce the products that we so desperately need.

    After reading and thinking for while about what general causes determine the wealth of nations, I’ve become convinced that this material well-being is promoted by respect for individual property rights, and not by the political class “pushing” individuals to behave according to the former’s preferences.

    Based on what I’ve learned, if you want the US to have a better general standard of living, you should

    • stop pushing others to use run their lives according to your beliefs about what is good for them
    • start respecting the rights, and the abilities, of others with respect to how they choose to make a living
    • pursue your own self-interest, by determining how to create value for others through voluntary agreements.

    Respect for private property is one of the things that distinguished the breadth and vitality of the Industrial Revolution in the UK compared to the Continent. Who has incentive to be curious and inventive if the stuff isn’t yours and/or won’t be respected as yours? 

     

     

    • #4
    • May 30, 2020, at 3:46 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    The merger with McDonnell-Douglas. 

    • #5
    • May 30, 2020, at 5:39 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. Mark Camp Member

    I think this article is very valuable and very informative. I wish I’d not picked on it for a single error I perceived in the first paragraph, without reading the rest of it!

    • #6
    • May 30, 2020, at 5:53 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    I think this article is very valuable and very informative. I wish I’d not picked on it for a single error I perceived in the first paragraph, without reading the rest of it!

    Not a problem. Thanks for your comments.

    • #7
    • May 31, 2020, at 11:35 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    About 10 years ago, I wrote about changing American attitudes toward manufacturing in my post Faux Manufacturing Nostalgia.

    I thought the mid-1960s fate of the GM-Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild (for teenagers) was particularly interesting; it certainly foreshadowed future problems.

    Public attitudes drive government policy, and policy has a big impact on what sorts of businesses are and aren’t feasible to locate in this country. Attitudes also have a big impact on individual career choices.

    American public attitudes toward manufacturing do seem to be getting a lot more positive over the past few years, and coronavirus-related issues and events seem to have given the trend an additional push.

    • #8
    • May 31, 2020, at 12:29 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree

    David Foster (View Comment):

    About 10 years ago, I wrote about changing American attitudes toward manufacturing in my post Faux Manufacturing Nostalgia.

    I thought the mid-1960s fate of the GM-Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild (for teenagers) was particularly interesting; it certainly foreshadowed future problems.

    Public attitudes drive government policy, and policy has a big impact on what sorts of businesses are and aren’t feasible to locate in this country. Attitudes also have a big impact on individual career choices.

    American public attitudes toward manufacturing do seem to be getting a lot more positive over the past few years, and coronavirus-related issues and events seem to have given the trend an additional push.

    Also, I don’t believe that careers in building and trades are being looked down upon so much anymore. Locally, the union halls are reporting upticks in young folks seeking info on jobs in such areas as carpentry and pipefitting.

    Unfortunately, last month, the local Pipefitters Union had a job fair in which 25 young people made their application. I say “unfortunately” because only 2 of the 25 could qualify for the apprenticeship program. The rest failed the aptitude test or failed the drug test. This is the problem that I alluded to in my post.

    • #9
    • May 31, 2020, at 1:29 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Danny Alexander Member

    #1 Guruforhire

    Unclear on how Agile has anything to do with this.

    First of all, the timing bears little relation: The various strands of programming approaches and project organization/delivery only coalesced as the Agile Manifesto in early 2001.

    Second, a majority (maybe even the overwhelming majority) of those striving to advance the frontiers of Agile consists of folks who accord tremendous respect to the insights of W. Edwards Deming, Don Reinertsen, and others devoted to the healthy revitalization of American manufacturing.

    Third, as an anecdotal/personal observation, my “Implementing SAFe 4.6” [SAFe = Scaled Agile Framework] course a year ago included multiple participants from BAE Systems, Dräger (medical equipment), and a NH-based military contractor whose name escapes me at the moment — in any, case, all three representing enterprises whose value-add competitive activity centers on “cyber-physical” systems that get manufactured.

    Agile serves to uncover the very management misconceptions and malfeasance that were sabotaging an enterprise under the surface and led to pilot Agile adoption in the first place “because we’ve tried everything else to find and fix the problems” — but the irony is that Agile gets blamed for surfacing the issues!…

    • #10
    • May 31, 2020, at 2:07 PM PDT
    • Like
    • This comment has been edited.
  11. EODmom Coolidge

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    About 10 years ago, I wrote about changing American attitudes toward manufacturing in my post Faux Manufacturing Nostalgia.

    I thought the mid-1960s fate of the GM-Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild (for teenagers) was particularly interesting; it certainly foreshadowed future problems.

    Public attitudes drive government policy, and policy has a big impact on what sorts of businesses are and aren’t feasible to locate in this country. Attitudes also have a big impact on individual career choices.

    American public attitudes toward manufacturing do seem to be getting a lot more positive over the past few years, and coronavirus-related issues and events seem to have given the trend an additional push.

    Also, I don’t believe that careers in building and trades are being looked down upon so much anymore. Locally, the union halls are reporting upticks in young folks seeking info on jobs in such areas as carpentry and pipefitting.

    Unfortunately, last month, the local Pipefitters Union had a job fair in which 25 young people made their application. I say “unfortunately” because only 2 of the 25 could qualify for the apprenticeship program. The rest failed the aptitude test or failed the drug test. This is the problem that I alluded to in my post.

    I’ve heard similar from a variety of skilled trades. “Legal” recreational drug use is having a significant impact on all levels of educational and economic activity. It affects attitude, focus, aptitude and motivation. On the job site it really affects safety. We are planning to build a house in the next 18 months – I figure I’ll have to grill the builders I interview about drug screening by subs and their own work force. Do I want to deal with an insurance claim for a forklift delivery of drywall gone wrong because someone used weed at lunch? Do I want someone installing some electrical or plumbing something that’s new to them and they can’t be bothered to read the instructions (reading got to be really hard in high school) or call the vendor? Nope. And I really really don’t want someone hurt because of it. That would really out a damper on things. 

    • #11
    • May 31, 2020, at 4:14 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    Unfortunately, last month, the local Pipefitters Union had a job fair in which 25 young people made their application. I say “unfortunately” because only 2 of the 25 could qualify for the apprenticeship program. The rest failed the aptitude test or failed the drug test.

    A machinist, who teaches machining at a local community college, mentioned that there were too many people who can’t learn to use a micrometer because they never learned decimal notation & arithmetic. Carpenters have also remarked that a lot of high-school graduates don’t understand fractions and hence can’t use a ruler or tape measure.

    • #12
    • May 31, 2020, at 4:21 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree

    David Foster (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    Unfortunately, last month, the local Pipefitters Union had a job fair in which 25 young people made their application. I say “unfortunately” because only 2 of the 25 could qualify for the apprenticeship program. The rest failed the aptitude test or failed the drug test.

    A machinist, who teaches machining at a local community college, mentioned that there were too many people who can’t learn to use a micrometer because they never learned decimal notation & arithmetic. Carpenters have also remarked that a lot of high-school graduates don’t understand fractions and hence can’t use a ruler or tape measure.

    And this makes me feel terrible. How can these kids function when their teachers have been instructed to “infuse their teaching with social justice ideals”?

    • #13
    • May 31, 2020, at 4:27 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Brian Clendinen Member
    Brian Clendinen Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Back when I was working on Northops/Airbus Tanker bid. There was a conversation going on. We wanted something similarly however the personal on the government side were insting there should be a manual back if the digital system stopped working. So it was to pricey to have both. So we had to abondone the new tech in the bid. Funny how the personal were right yet some with the 8 year saga the program mgtm and tech changed so much that signed off on it. The tanker program has been a long delayed distare. Sole sourcing maybe it’s not the best thing when it comes to our Fleet

    • #14
    • May 31, 2020, at 4:32 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. Lee Member
    Lee

    You can trace it to when Boeing moved their corporate HQ to Chicago in 2001. As a Chicagoan walking by their headquarters every day on the way to work I thought the move was strange. At the time the main reason touted in the press was Chicago’s status as a financial center and the economics of the aircraft business, but they had zero production facilities in the area.

    In checking dates I ran across this article from last year in the Atlantic. They also emphasize what RushBabe49 pointed to in her comment about McDonnell Douglas, and its corporate culture of military procurement. Don’t know how much is due to that but I do know you can’t run a manufacturing firm like Boeing with all the “important people” thousands of miles away.

    A bit from the Atlantic article:

    On the tarmac, Condit stepped out of the jet, made a brief speech, then boarded a helicopter for an aerial tour of Boeing’s new corporate home: the Morton Salt building, a skyscraper sitting just out of the Loop in downtown Chicago. Boeing’s top management plus staff—roughly 500 people in all—would work here. They could see the boats plying the Chicago River and the trains rumbling over it. Condit, an opera lover, would have an easy walk to the Lyric Opera building. But the nearest Boeing commercial-airplane assembly facility would be 1,700 miles away.

    The isolation was deliberate. “When the headquarters is located in proximity to a principal business—as ours was in Seattle—the corporate center is inevitably drawn into day-to-day business operations,” Condit explained at the time. And that statement, more than anything, captures a cardinal truth about the aerospace giant. The present 737 Max disaster can be traced back two decades—to the moment Boeing’s leadership decided to divorce itself from the firm’s own culture.

    • #15
    • May 31, 2020, at 5:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  16. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    CACrabtree: It’s no secret that we have outsourced everything except the kitchen sink. We’ve heard the familiar reframe that, because of the realities of the “new global economy”, we have no recourse except to ship our manufacturing capabilities to other countries. At least that’s what our oh-so-bright MBAs tell us and everyone knows they’re the “best and brightest”, right?

    I like this article, but want to take issue with this part of it. The United States is still a large-scale industrial country. China (with 4.4 times our population) has surpassed us as the world’s largest exporter, but we’re still in the big leagues. People think we don’t manufacture much anymore because as a percentage we have a lot fewer manufacturing jobs than in the 1960’s. But the manufacturing output has grown considerably since those days, we just have more efficient machinery and don’t need as many laborers. 

    During the colonial era something like 90% of Americans were employed in agriculture. Today it’s about 2%. It’s not that we don’t grow our own food anymore, we help feed the world. We just have machinery that allows each farm to employ a whole lot less human labor. Which is not to say that we couldn’t make even more stuff here. By cutting a lot of regulations, the Trump administration is making this a more desirable country to do business in.

    • #16
    • May 31, 2020, at 8:53 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Bryan Van Blaricom Member
    Bryan Van Blaricom Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Lee (View Comment):

    You can trace it to when Boeing moved their corporate HQ to Chicago in 2001. As a Chicagoan walking by their headquarters every day on the way to work I thought the move was strange. At the time the main reason touted in the press was Chicago’s status as a financial center and the economics of the aircraft business, but they had zero production facilities in the area.

    In checking dates I ran across this article from last year in the Atlantic. They also emphasize what RushBabe49 pointed to in her comment about McDonnell Douglas, and its corporate culture of military procurement. Don’t know how much is due to that but I do know you can’t run a manufacturing firm like Boeing with all the “important people” thousands of miles away.

    A bit from the Atlantic article:

    On the tarmac, Condit stepped out of the jet, made a brief speech, then boarded a helicopter for an aerial tour of Boeing’s new corporate home: the Morton Salt building, a skyscraper sitting just out of the Loop in downtown Chicago. Boeing’s top management plus staff—roughly 500 people in all—would work here. They could see the boats plying the Chicago River and the trains rumbling over it. Condit, an opera lover, would have an easy walk to the Lyric Opera building. But the nearest Boeing commercial-airplane assembly facility would be 1,700 miles away.

    The isolation was deliberate. “When the headquarters is located in proximity to a principal business—as ours was in Seattle—the corporate center is inevitably drawn into day-to-day business operations,” Condit explained at the time. And that statement, more than anything, captures a cardinal truth about the aerospace giant. The present 737 Max disaster can be traced back two decades—to the moment Boeing’s leadership decided to divorce itself from the firm’s own culture.

    And maybe it was just a coincidence that Boeing moved it’s HQ to Chicago just weeks before announcing over 30,000 layoffs on the west coast.

    • #17
    • May 31, 2020, at 9:28 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    CACrabtree: It’s no secret that we have outsourced everything except the kitchen sink. We’ve heard the familiar reframe that, because of the realities of the “new global economy”, we have no recourse except to ship our manufacturing capabilities to other countries. At least that’s what our oh-so-bright MBAs tell us and everyone knows they’re the “best and brightest”, right?

    I like this article, but want to take issue with this part of it. The United States is still a large-scale industrial country. China (with 4.4 times our population) has surpassed us as the world’s largest exporter, but we’re still in the big leagues. People think we don’t manufacture much anymore because as a percentage we have a lot fewer manufacturing jobs than in the 1960’s. But the manufacturing output has grown considerably since those days, we just have more efficient machinery and don’t need as many laborers.

    During the colonial era something like 90% of Americans were employed in agriculture. Today it’s about 2%. It’s not that we don’t grow our own food anymore, we help feed the world. We just have machinery that allows each farm to employ a whole lot less human labor. Which is not to say that we couldn’t make even more stuff here. By cutting a lot of regulations, the Trump administration is making this a more desirable country to do business in.

    Point taken.

    Still, there are “multiple bogies” when it comes to the future of American manufacturing. Who will design, construct, and maintain the machinery that enables our agriculture and manufacturing? With our steadily declining educational system, that’s a concern. At what point do aerospace workers learn that it’s a no-no to stuff garbage into the interior of multimillion dollar aircraft? At what point will our schools go back to teaching math and science instead of social justice?

    At the higher (decision-making) levels, how is this country deciding what products should be manufactured overseas? It’s instructive to take a bit of a deeper dive (via Google) along the lines of “Products being manufactured overseas” and ask “What could come back to this country?” I’m still trying to find the answer to the question, “Why did we outsource the manufacture of antibiotics and other important drugs to China?”

    I’m not sure that we have any clear answers (other than corporate profits) for some of the decisions being made. That’s what really bothers me.

    Thanks for your comments.

    • #18
    • June 1, 2020, at 10:55 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  19. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree

    Bryan Van Blaricom (View Comment):

    Lee (View Comment):

    You can trace it to when Boeing moved their corporate HQ to Chicago in 2001. As a Chicagoan walking by their headquarters every day on the way to work I thought the move was strange. At the time the main reason touted in the press was Chicago’s status as a financial center and the economics of the aircraft business, but they had zero production facilities in the area.

    In checking dates I ran across this article from last year in the Atlantic. They also emphasize what RushBabe49 pointed to in her comment about McDonnell Douglas, and its corporate culture of military procurement. Don’t know how much is due to that but I do know you can’t run a manufacturing firm like Boeing with all the “important people” thousands of miles away.

    A bit from the Atlantic article:

    On the tarmac, Condit stepped out of the jet, made a brief speech, then boarded a helicopter for an aerial tour of Boeing’s new corporate home: the Morton Salt building, a skyscraper sitting just out of the Loop in downtown Chicago. Boeing’s top management plus staff—roughly 500 people in all—would work here. They could see the boats plying the Chicago River and the trains rumbling over it. Condit, an opera lover, would have an easy walk to the Lyric Opera building. But the nearest Boeing commercial-airplane assembly facility would be 1,700 miles away.

    The isolation was deliberate. “When the headquarters is located in proximity to a principal business—as ours was in Seattle—the corporate center is inevitably drawn into day-to-day business operations,” Condit explained at the time. And that statement, more than anything, captures a cardinal truth about the aerospace giant. The present 737 Max disaster can be traced back two decades—to the moment Boeing’s leadership decided to divorce itself from the firm’s own culture.

    And maybe it was just a coincidence that Boeing moved it’s HQ to Chicago just weeks before announcing over 30,000 layoffs on the west coast.

    Both, excellent comments. It’s a little like a general trying to direct a battle from 1000 miles behind the line. It just doesn’t work.

    • #19
    • June 1, 2020, at 11:06 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    I’m still trying to find the answer to the question, “Why did we outsource the manufacture of antibiotics and other important drugs to China?”

    There was a related discussion at an investment site. One guy, who seemed to have considerable experience in the pharma industry, remarked that to build (or even expand) a plant in the United States requires years and years of fighting with regulators at local, state and Federal levels…whereas in China, the provincial governor will take you out for a great dinner, approve everything quickly, and make dozens of phone calls to facilitate your project.

     

     

    • #20
    • June 1, 2020, at 12:09 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  21. Mark Camp Member

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

     

    “…how is this country deciding what products should be manufactured overseas? I

    I’m not sure that we have any clear answers (other than corporate profits) for some of the decisions being made. That’s what really bothers me.

    I think you’ve found the clear answer: corporate profits (more precisely, private profits). It seems to me that you are making this too complicated. Everything (pretty much) that producers do is to with the purpose of maximizing profit, within the limits of their moral senses.

    • #21
    • June 1, 2020, at 1:29 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. The Cynthonian Member

    I have to weigh in on this. First, a quibble, it’s the 737-MAX, not the Super Max.

    Second, with all due respect to my friend @rushbabe49, I’m tired of hearing the company’s woes blamed on the McDonnell-Douglas merger. That was 23 years ago, and all of the people responsible for it, and in positions of influence during that period, have long since retired or otherwise left the company.

    I believe most of the troubles have to do with the tenure of James McNerney as CEO. That’s when the engineering culture really became secondary to the stock price, propping up the dividends, and financial metrics, including deep cost cuts. McNerney came out of the Jack Welch management culture at GE, and that’s the toolbox he largely implemented at Boeing. (Notice what a mess GE is these days?) Muilenburg had started to reverse at least part of that, but he couldn’t do it fast enough. By then, sadly, the MAX crashes were probably just a matter of time.

    I can’t speak to the KC-46 development woes, other than to say, after the second failure on the FOD, I would have fired everyone in the management chain, and instituted strict accountability for it. I don’t believe that happened. If it did, it was very quiet. R&D isn’t so predictable, but trying to do it on the cheap rarely works.

    Other than McNerney, the company is affected by the societal trends that the OP and commenters have discussed, including poor technical education, widespread tolerance of drug use, and lack of a proper work ethic. Boeing can’t fix those all by itself.

    • #22
    • June 1, 2020, at 1:36 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  23. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    Still, there are “multiple bogies” when it comes to the future of American manufacturing. Who will design, construct, and maintain the machinery that enables our agriculture and manufacturing? With our steadily declining educational system, that’s a concern. At what point do aerospace workers learn that it’s a no-no to stuff garbage into the interior of multimillion dollar aircraft? At what point will our schools go back to teaching math and science instead of social justice?

    Absolutely correct. If a population is largely too lazy or apathetic to study and work hard, the future is going to be a lot more limited.

    • #23
    • June 1, 2020, at 4:56 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

     

    “…how is this country deciding what products should be manufactured overseas? I

    I’m not sure that we have any clear answers (other than corporate profits) for some of the decisions being made. That’s what really bothers me.

    I think you’ve found the clear answer: corporate profits (more precisely, private profits). It seems to me that you are making this too complicated. Everything (pretty much) that producers do is to with the purpose of maximizing profit, within the limits of their moral senses.

    Ah, “limits of their moral senses”? Is there such a thing?

    • #24
    • June 1, 2020, at 6:29 PM PDT
    • Like
  25. Mark Camp Member

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

     

    “…how is this country deciding what products should be manufactured overseas? I

    I’m not sure that we have any clear answers (other than corporate profits) for some of the decisions being made. That’s what really bothers me.

    I think you’ve found the clear answer: corporate profits (more precisely, private profits). It seems to me that you are making this too complicated. Everything (pretty much) that producers do is to with the purpose of maximizing profit, within the limits of their moral senses.

    Ah, “limits of their moral senses”? Is there such a thing?

    For a psychopath, no. For everyone else, yes.

    • #25
    • June 1, 2020, at 6:43 PM PDT
    • Like