Using Supply Chain Data to Prevent A Disaster

by | Feb 29, 2024 | Manufacturing & Supply Chain

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Supply chain data can mean many different things to different organizations. For some it can be used to make sure goods are being delivered in the most efficient way — whether that’s getting raw materials to a factory or from production to the consumer. For others it could be used to track an item down to its origins to make sure sustainability goals are being met.

In some cases, though, supply chain data can be used to aid an investigation. That was the case recently when a door came off a plane mid-flight. Here’s how data helped inform the investigation into the event, and how the businesses at the heart of the problem can use the same data to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


NTSB investigates

The incident happened in early January on a flight headed from Oregon to California. Shortly after takeoff, a door plug blew off of an Alaska Airlines plane while it was in the air. The plane, which was still climbing and had not yet reached cruising altitude, was able to turn around and land. 174 passengers and six crew members were on board at the time and only minor injuries were reported.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released its initial investigative report. In order to get to the bottom of what happened, the NTSB relied on data from the Boeing supply chain.

The NTSB traced the path of the door plug from its production in Malaysia until it reached Alaska Airlines. The organization found:

  • The mid exit door plug was produced in March 2023 in Malaysia by Spirit AeroSystems.
  • In May 2023, the door plug was installed onto the aircraft fuselage in Wichita, Kansas.
  • The fuselage was shipped to Boeing’s facility in Renton, Washington and arrived there at the end of August 2023.

The data also showed that before the aircraft was shipped to Renton, workers made note of a minor problem with the door plug and the way it sealed shut, but that it was otherwise structurally sound. In Renton, workers opened the door plug to repair rivets. That required them to remove four bolts. The rivets were replaced, and the bolts were not. It was these missing bolts that should have held the door in place.



Boeing responds

The same information plays an important part in Boeing’s future. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it would increase oversight of Boeing production and manufacturing. That included an audit of Boeing’s production line and its suppliers for the types of planes that experienced the problem.

“An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory,” said Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun. “We simply must do better for our customers [like Alaska Airlines, for example] and their passengers.” In order to do that, Boeing has put into place a plan to ensure all mid exit door plugs are installed according to specifications, and it has set up new inspections of the door plug assembly at Spirit’s factory and its own production line. Spirit makes about 70% of the aircraft’s body, and for its part, released a statement that it will work closely with Boeing and regulators to improve its processes.

Your organization doesn’t have to be under investigation to take advantage of the same kind of supply chain data used by the NTSB. Knowing where products are at all stages of manufacturing is an important part of many decisions that companies need to make. If parts don’t make it from Malaysia to Kansas in a certain amount of time, for example, maybe there is a shipping problem that needs to be addressed. Analytics tracing a product can also help an organization decide if a shipping company is the best fit, comparing it to other companies that might get a product to its destination faster and more cheaply.

Not all NTSB investigations involve tracing supply chain information. But for those that do, there is data for every step of the supply chain to make sure a process that has gone wrong isn’t repeated. More often than not, organizations are using supply chain data to identify efficiencies or opportunities for improvement in their bottom lines. But every so often the data can be used to save lives and prevent a disaster.

John Sucich
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