RE: 1999 to be a good year for RP and related technologies!

From: Caffrey, Tim (
Date: Mon May 10 1999 - 17:46:08 EEST

I hate to rain on your parade, especially when this industry is looking for positive signs to hang its hat on. But I feel your posting needs a counterpoint of informed realism.

I worked at Boeing Commercial in Seattle, and helped to operate the Rapid Prototyping Center from late 1991 to mid 1996. (By 1996, the RPC housed seven of the eight RP systems in the entire company.) Beginning with Alan Johnson back in 1989, continued first by Long Phan and I, then by Mike Miller and Jeff Dark, the Boeing RPC has produced tens of thousands of prototype parts for internal customers of Boeing. During that time, the 777 was designed, developed, and built, and the RPC was instrumental in the 777's success. During that time, Boeing announced plans for a 36 month airplane program. But through all that, we never felt anyone in Boeing upper management was championing the rapid prototyping cause. The success of the RPC was entirely grass roots in nature, rarely rising above the design engineering group that recognized the virtue of prototyping and ordered the parts. The envangelism of RP was left to me and the RPC leads that preceded and followed me--no one else in man!
agement seemed to be in our cour


There are some intrinsic problems with Very Large Companies. Something like RP is so new and different that it doesn't fit neatly into a defined technical discipline, and so it slips into the cracks between Computing, Design Engineering, and Manufacturing. Also, if an organization does come to recognize the power and potential of the new technology, they will tend to try to deploy the technology within their own empire, thus re-inventing the wheel, instead of using existing resources. Finally, there is too large of a chasm between the visionaries in upper management and the worker bees who are actually making the new technology happen, so that even if a champion exists, the bureaucratic filters and hurdles multiply with every middle management step downward. All of these Very Large Company characteristics have been at work at Boeing, and they have hurt the rapid prototyping cause. The frustration I experienced in trying to overcome them contributed to my departure.

I don't think things have changed appreciably in the recent past, at least at Boeing Commercial in Seattle. Perhaps, as you say, there is some directed, intentional plan for these technologies on the horizon at Boeing, and that would be great, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

P.S. Would you direct me to the article you are referencing? Thanks.

Tim Caffrey
Pratt & Whitney
275 E. Robinson
Springdale AR 72764

-----Original Message-----
From: Monica & Glenn Whiteside []
Sent: Sunday, May 09, 1999 10:11 PM
To: Rapid Prototype Mailing List
Subject: 1999 to be a good year for RP and related technologies!

Dear rp-ml:

Just read an article on Boeing and their Airplane Creation Process Strategy
(ACPS) and how they want to slash the cost of developing a new airplane from
$7 billion USD to $1 billion USD and the time from 5 years to 1 year. They
want to follow NASA's mantra of "faster, better, cheaper" (although perhaps
too much of this, e.g. spreading experienced people and resources too thin,
can cause real problems such as the recent Delta launch catastrophes).

Perhaps now Boeing management will realize what an asset they have in their
RP labs and employees and treat them more like equal partners rather than
liabilities relegated to obscure and underfunded labs. Although a little
late, as most hindsight is, perhaps Boeing's top management have learned
that RP is a very valuable tool which needs to be wisely utilized and its
use expanded, not cut. They want to reduce the amount of wind-tunnel
testing they are doing. With RP models they could do a lot of inexpensive
preliminary concept designs and test them in water tunnels first ($50/hour
vs. $700/hr+). Also RP models are a relative bargain when it comes to
marketing and customer models which is where the rubber really meets the
road first. If customers and/or marketing do not approve of the concept
design first why even go further with the design? The preliminary stage is
where you need to nail down as much of the design characteristics as
possible, not redesigning it as you go (although some of this always seems
to be inevitable based on changing customer and market demands, but the goal
is to minimize it and keep the "out-the-door" schedule moving).

Hopefully this long awaited "wake-up" call by a big company like Boeing will
stir other companies to look for better and faster ways to optimize and
reduce their design cycle times and costs, hopefully providing a nice boost
to the RP community in the process.


Glenn Whiteside

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