Boeing has received much attention as an example of the application of advanced design capabilities (Sabbagh, 1996; Petroski, 1996). Throughout its history, the company has demonstrated a capability for both product and process innovation that turns it into an interesting case study subject. Boeing is known for the rigor with which it has come to apply project management principles throughout its development and manufacturing process. As it comes to product development, Boeing is reputable for designing platforms or families of aircraft. This design flexibility allows for several variations, drawing on the same base airframe concepts. Modifications such as a stretched fuselage to increase capacity can thus be accommodated without wholesale revisions in design or without the need to start up entirely separate development programs. The company has also been a pioneer in building co-development and outsourcing relationships. Boeing further became a role model in applying concurrent engineering principles and new design technologies to the design and development of the 777 airplane.

As early as the mid-1970s, the European Airbus consortium began challenging the American dominated aircraft industry. By the mid-1980s, Airbus had become a recognized player on the world commercial aircraft market. As a consequence, by the late 1980s, Boeing began to look to design a new aircraft that would fill needs that planes like its 747 and 767 did not. More specific, Boeing needed to fill a ‘gap’ with respect to seating capacity and range of its commercial jets keeping in mind economic development in the Pacific Rim area. The company needed a large body aircraft able to cover distance ranges between 7,000 and 8,000 nautical miles.

At first Boeing thought of stretching the existing 767 design. This would be a safe, quick and low-cost way of providing a plane with an increased seat capacity. In the meantime, though, both McDonnell-Douglas and Airbus were expected to offer new large capacity, long range aircraft. With such competition in view, Boeing decided that it would be better to develop a plane that could compete in a more direct way with the new competition. After United Airlines provided a firm ‘baseload’ order for the new plane, Boeing was able to launch its 777 design in the second half of the 1990s.

In order to increase the ‘fit’ between form and context, Boeing invited eight airlines to get involved with the design of the 777 in the early conceptual design phase, when little of the design parameter space was firmly decided upon. This allowed for taking into account customer requirements. Although eight airlines had to agree upon some basic design concepts (an almost impossible job to accomplish), Boeing was able to work toward a consensus with them that enabled its engineers to arrive at a solid basis for more detailed engineering work.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

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