Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The soul of a new airplane

Yesterday, in his 'Week Ahead' post, flightblogger included a video about the 787 development project (a remarkable project from several angles) in which Al Miller of Boeing gives us some details. Al's talk is followed up by the Chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department of UWash.

It was a great video and well worth watching; having access to details like this will be important; no doubt, there are many more (who has a bibliography?); as well, as the project goes along, we can expect more.

Now, this video is great since it is from the engineering view and not a sales pitch, though one can see the influence of management's footprint in several places. That is, there is a lot not mentioned and a lot that is glossed over; okay, according to the rules, we probably aren't allowed access; I just hope that the company does not think it beyond us or that we are not interested.

Anything other than openness brings on suspicions.

So, why the title of this post? Well, it does allude to Tracy Kidder's book. As we know, there are always interesting interplays between the management and engineering sides of anything.

This is not an in-depth commentary on the video's messages, rather it is just an attempt at characterizing my reaction. Methinks that the focus on the composite breakthroughs allowed too much emphasis to be placed upon the success of getting the thing together. But, a whole machine was not rolled out on 7/8/07; no, it was a lifeless shell, that was some distance from being functional. Just how far that distance was, we do not know yet. But, like any empirical problem, we'll know in time.

Another problem was the headiness (ego trip, or hubris) of the large project, where most of the work was being done elsewhere. Talk about setting up illusory situations; what better framework from which to do this? As well, the sales and marketing pitches just went mad. As said before, a bodyless head is not what we need for success in the world (even the foundational issues suggest that - how can the process people be so unrealistic?).

As mentioned before, Minsky's model of hedge, speculation, and ponziness come into play here in engineering and production (remember, out-sourcing is an analog of leverage in financing), as they do in the financial misery-ness. We'll continue to look at that.

Al's overview was great, especially his talk about the use of equations (the arguments about the abstraction-phile apply here) and testing. We all know that engineering has made great strides in changing the world through applied mathematics and science. What we all need to be cautious about is letting the abstract stand for reality. In this case, usages of models as data being fed into other models is very much dangerous, as we'll all learn as we go toward the future.

But, that brings up testing, covered here, to boot. Any mathematics itself is subject to the same problems as reality (or ought to be), that is the quasi-empirical issue. But, business is top-down and thereby unrealistic (witness what? wake up and look at the Street and the idiots that populate the thing!!). Boeing did create a technical force; where are they? Well, having Al speak does not count, as he is management.

Other points that we ought to consider is that Boeing pushed the envelope on many fronts here, which is really a no-no. So, it's the biggest project, Al says. Well, then, belly up and pay the price for creating it (well, that'll happen anyway). It brings in new technology; well, congratulations. But, don't bring out your cigars yet, your baby still needs to get out of the crib. And, it needs to show its soul beyond all those marketing and industrial views that have been spread around the world (in some cases, mocked up as if the thing were really there - meaning, of course, a photo - see the truth engineering counterpart of this blog - the computer, and its network, can be more problematic than not).

The UWash chair showed the future of composites and current usages. Well, what stood out, is what was asked 4 years ago, where is the precedence for the 787? None, essentially. So, everyone, including Airbus, is going to learn from this experiment.

Thankfully, due to the fact that it deals with reality (as opposed to the dismal science behind the market), the technical issues of the 787 can be worked. Now, the process issues are still open; hopefully, the IAM and SPEEA issues can be resolved in a wise fashion; how many case studies will come from this project?

By the way, at the 7/8/07 rollout, it was said that the 787 was not your father's plane. Oh, indeed it is not! This project has deep signs of the 'game' generation's facility with and belief in the computational. That is not bad; that generation just has to learn that 'reality' rules. Boeing knows this.

Cannot we observe one factor in just about all the bubbles of late? That is, elements of the youth, just recently schooled in new technology, are given free reign to explore. Well, in the computational, the influence can be minimal (though, how many billions have been lost to business through Windows failures?) and reversible. Nature is full of irreversibles (ah, bringing good philosophical arguments to business - is that possible?).


06/25/2009 -- Ah, issues continue to arise.

05/27/2009 -- People need to be rewarded about how smartly they plan for, and handle, uncertainty (it's more than just risk -- topsy-turvy needs to be addressed more fully in both an epistemologic and an operational sense).

05/18/2009 -- Testing in flight is within sight.

Modified: 06/25/2009

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