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Boeing Outsourced 737 MAX Software Development



If the old saying "you get what you pay for" should be believed, then Boeing may have got it. Yesterday, it was reported that Boeing has been dependent on temporary workers to develop and test software. These workers, often from countries without significant aviation background, made as little as $ 9 an hour. Outsourcing of work to foreign companies has reportedly led to frustrating miscommunication, an increase in supervisory costs and delays.

737 The MAX rays have now been on the ground for over three months now without a clear end in sight. Photo: Flickr user Steve Lynes

Extensive reporting from Bloomberg showed that foreign contract engineers have had different levels of involvement in the development of 737 MAX. Connections include:

  • Engineers from Indian HCL Technologies are developing and testing Max's flight display software.
  • Employees of another Indian company, Cyient Ltd., participating in the management of software for flight testing equipment.

But, Boeing says that it does not rely on HCL or Cyient engineers for MCAS. MCAS is the maneuvering characteristic of the Augmentation System and it has been linked to the Lion Air crash of October 2018 and the disaster in Ethiopia Airlines in March 2019.

Lack of communication, inefficiency

It should be made clear that there is no something inherently wrong with outsourcing work. Sometimes this can be an advantage if a particular company has decades of expertise on a particular type of project. In addition, an external company can only be better off attracting high-quality candidates. A smaller focus can also lead to a very high standard of education for its employees on the subject.

However, Boeing's outsourcing has caused a few problems:

  • While HCL often designs for Boeing specifications, former engineers said it was "controversial because it was far less effective than Boeing engineers just wrote the code [and] it took many rounds that went back and forth because the code was not done correctly. "
  • In 2008, an employee of the 787 project complained about sending drawings back to a team in Russia 18 times. Apparently, it took many times for them to understand that smoke detectors must be connected to the electrical system.
  • 787 was commissioned three years late and billions of dollars over the budget in 2011. This was due to partial confusion in the outsourcing strategy.

"We had our challenges with the India team … They met the requirements themselves, but you could do better." – Charles LoveJoy, former Boeing flight test instrumentation design engineer

A typical modern jet has millions of parts and millions of passwords. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Rushed jobs, and cut corners

Reducing production costs seems to be an important factor in many of Boeing's decisions. With a favorable exchange rate for Boeing, much of the attraction for overseas outsourcing was price. Many engineers in India cost $ 9 or $ 10 per. Time compared to $ 35 to $ 40 for their US counterparts.

But Vance Hilderman, co-founder of TekSci, tells customers that the cheaper hourly wage is inflated to more than $ 80 per hour due to extra supervision required. TekSci is a supplier of aerospace contract engineers, but has previously lost work to foreign competitors. However, Hilderman says his company has won back something to solve the mistakes of the same foreign competitors.

In addition, engineers working on the MAX project complained of pressure from managers to limit changes that would introduce extra time or costs.

"Boeing did all sorts of things, all you can imagine, to cut costs, including floating work from Puget Sound because we would be very expensive here" – Rick Ludtke, former Boeing aircraft controlling engineer off in 2017 )

The hunt for lower costs also went hand in hand with several orders. The Bloomberg article says that instead of Boeing investing $ 1.7 billion in Indian companies (like HCL and Cyient), the country landed a $ 11 billion order in 2005 from Air India.

Boeing's investment in Indian labor could have helped secure large orders. Photo: Flickr user Liam Allport

Boeing's defense

According to Sydney Morning Herald, a Boeing spokesman spoke of the controversy by saying:

"Boeing has many decades of experience working with vendor / partners around the world . […] Our primary focus is always to ensure that our products and services are safe, of the highest quality and comply with all applicable rules. "

What do you think? Has Boeing made a mistake by outsourcing important tasks to foreign workers? Let us know your opinion in the comments.


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