The Boeing Design Change Process

When design changes to a commercial airplane such as the 787 Dreamliner must be made, Boeing teams use an established change management methodology. Changes are made for various reasons, including improving efficiency or performance, meeting new regulatory requirements or addressing customer airline requirements.

Any airplane can undergo numerous design changes, big or small, and for myriad reasons, throughout its service life. Over the life of an airplane program, the changes can number in the thousands.

How the change process works

When the need for a product change is identified, representatives from across Boeing come together. Tooling, scheduling, finance, design engineering, manufacturing engineering, contracts and other functions all have a role.

Technical and trade studies might be conducted if a design solution is not easily identified, or when multiple options are under consideration. Early action can include prototyping or design-and-build workshops to validate conceptual solutions.

How the proposed change gets approved

After a solution has been proposed, a change proposal is created. Boeing engineers and business teams go over the situation and solution. Design considerations include safety requirements, weight, technical performance measures and configuration. On the business side, resources, schedule and organizational effects are assessed.

Once the proposal is approved by management, the lead engineer gathers data from affected organizations and supplier partners and initiates a change request. An impact assessment review board is convened to make sure that all groups who will be affected by the change have been identified and asked for input.

Three more levels of review

Senior managers go over the proposal with an eye to understanding the implications for their areas of responsibility. For example, engineering leaders from the fuselage team, wing team, interiors team and others are involved.

The design change is then examined by a technical review board, consisting of deputy chief project engineers, Boeing Research & Technology experts and Boeing Technical Fellows. They ensure that the change is technically sound and the best solution for the airplane.

At the last step in this process, program leaders and the chief project engineer evaluate the change and make the final determination whether to proceed. In some exceptional cases, a futher review by all of the program leaders may be required.

Making the change happen

Once a change is approved, the lead engineer and change analysts begin developing a plan to make the change. The plan includes work statements, schedule quotes from production teams and the supply chain, and integrating requirements into one master plan.

Next, new engineering drawings are reviewed and approved, and teams from manufacturing engineering create production plans and work instructions for technicians on the factory floor. Engineering teams then make sure that the new data is correctly incorporated and is proceeding through the system.

Certifying the change

Some changes require Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification. Special engineering teams are tapped early in the process to define the testing required, which must be validated by the FAA before tests can proceed. The FAA may decide to observe tests in addition to analyzing report and test data to make sure that regulatory requirements are met and to approve the closure of the certification plan associated with the change.

Making changes is a routine part of designing and building airplanes. This rigorous process is in place because of the complexity of commercial jetliners—the 787 Dreamliner has 2.3 million parts and complex, integrated systems—and because changes can have significant engineering and production implications. Whenever changes are made, Boeing makes them using this proven disciplined and effective process.