Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dreams and Teeth

You take unacceptable risk, you have to be prepared to face the consequence. Carly Fiorina

The next time you jump on a plane, remember that there is more new technology in your toothbrush.

Patents issued for the toothbrush:      1,937
Patents issued for the airplane:          1,505
(since 1976)

Before you start wondering why there are so many toothbrush patents, let me cite some other patent counts:  laser 63k, computer 125k, automobile 12k, television 15k, boat 7k - since 1976.

So the big question is not why are there so many toothbrush patents? (although, honestly, it would still be an interesting question) but rather, why are there so FEW airplane patents?

Look no further than today's New York Times headlines Deepening Crisis for the Dreamliner.

In Boeing's words "The Boeing 787 program has consciously designed in new, state-of-the-art features and performance that reduce cost and increase airplane availability. These features will lead to additional savings and greater revenue for Boeing customers. The 787 reflects a new life-cycle design philosophy that has dictated some significant changes in the way the airplane will be built. These changes include extensive use of composites in the airframe and primary structure, an electric systems architecture, a reliable and maintainable design, and an improved maintenance program. Taken together, these changes will offer customers a guaranteed reduction in maintenance costs."

Consider the billions of dollars that Boeing invested in the design, development and retooling of manufacturing facilities. And after all that investment, they were three years late in their first deliveries. Then, on top of all that, the DOUBT over the new technologies has resulted in the planes being grounded.

On top of that, there are still huge long term risks that Boeing has taken on. For example, the airplane wasn't made with aluminum, but with composites. No one really knows how those materials will perform in real flight operations over twenty years.

So when you consider if it could BE different, keep in mind that in some markets the cost of change is astronomical and the risk of failure is huge.

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