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The Wall Street Journal wrote a great piece about Boeing’s troubles with its 737 MAX 9.  Boeing is one of the biggest U.S. manufacturers in history and looking at their processes can provide valuable insight for all manufacturers and participants in a complex global supply chain.

Much modern manufacturing has become atomized. From hot tubs to iPhones, machines are built in small pieces by different companies, then delivered to another factory for final assembly. The system has sliced costs from the process by letting production lines maximize output and eliminate waste. But the strategy also stretches oversight and adds risks, since the final product is only as good as the least-good supplier.

This is not to say that atomized manufacturing is a per se bad way to make things. It’s totally possible that the least proficient supplier could be excellent.

European rival Airbus follows a similar manufacturing approach, sourcing from factories across the globe—including fuselages and other key parts from Spirit. Last year, Airbus faced a major problem with an engine supplier whose metal contamination is sidelining hundreds of Airbus jets worldwide for repairs.

But one weak outsourced link can break the chain.

“Whatever’s happened over the previous years—because this has been going on for years—has not worked,” he said. “All indications are it’s manufacturing” that led to the Alaska accident, he added, not a design flaw.

In 2011, former Boeing executive Jim Albaugh said that the approach had backfired. “In hindsight, we spent a lot more money in trying to recover than we ever would have spent if we tried to keep many of the key technologies closer to Boeing,” he said in an address at Seattle University. “The pendulum swung too far.”

There is a lot more in the WSJ article, potential problems associated with layoffs, organization structure etc. and it’s all worth reading for a broader perspective. Even if it’s not all 100% accurate to Boeing, these concerns are true of some company out there, and full of things to be mindful of.