App helps Boeing link factory floor to suppliers

Last week, the Boeing shop floor got a bit smarter with the rollout of iCollaboration, an intelligent software product that predicts when critical parts will be needed in manufacturing and notifies suppliers to deliver them.

Managing quality, cost and complexity are root challenges in manufacturing. And while manufacturing resource planning (MRP) software has helped companies streamline product development and shop floor processes, it hasn't helped much with predicting plant disruptions because of supplier problems.

Kurt Nuser, a manager of manufacturing and industrial engineering at Boeing's military aircraft and missile plant in St. Louis, said iCollboration uses sophisticated mathematical modeling to create a virtual feedback loop between suppliers and Boeing's factory, where workers build F/A-18 aircraft and guided missiles.

The software, developed by Adexa, links directly to Boeing's MRP applications from Western Data Systems and will be used for scheduling inventory with Boeing suppliers, Nuser said.

"When our mechanics on the shop floor complete a job and log it into the system, the supplier will be able to see what job is next," Nuser said. And that will enable suppliers to schedule their manufacturing in advance of Boeing's next build sequence, he explained.

Typically, Boeing operates in a 15-day job cycle and has all the parts needed for that cycle on "Day 1" of the sequence, Nuser said. When fully implemented next year, the software will automatically signal suppliers across the Internet or Boeing's extranet in advance of a given manufacturing cycle, detailing what parts are needed and when.

"The endgame is to get products pulled from suppliers instead of pushed," Nuser said.

He wouldn't comment on the cost of Boeing's iCollboration rollout, but Cyrus Hadavi, president and CEO of Adexa, said deployments can cost from a few hundred thousand dollars to US$5 million.

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