Boeing’s 737 Max Software Outsourced to $9-an-Hour Engineers - Bloomberg
In offices across from Seattle’s Boeing Field, recent college graduates employed by the Indian software developer HCL Technologies Ltd. occupied several rows of desks, said Mark Rabin, a former Boeing software engineer who worked in a flight-test group that supported the Max.
The coders from HCL were typically designing to specifications set by Boeing. Still, “it was controversial because it was far less efficient than Boeing engineers just writing the code,” Rabin said. Frequently, he recalled, “it took many rounds going back and forth because the code was not done correctly.”
Boeing’s cultivation of Indian companies appeared to pay other dividends. In recent years, it has won several orders for Indian military and commercial aircraft, such as a $22 billion one in January 2017 to supply SpiceJet Ltd. That order included 100 737-Max 8 jets and represented Boeing’s largest order ever from an Indian airline, a coup in a country dominated by Airbus.
Based on resumes posted on social media, HCL engineers helped develop and test the Max’s flight-display software, while employees from another Indian company, Cyient Ltd., handled software for flight-test equipment.
C’est beau comme tout la langue de bois des public relations :
Boeing said the company did not rely on engineers from HCL and Cyient for the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which has been linked to the Lion Air crash last October and the Ethiopian Airlines disaster in March. The Chicago-based planemaker also said it didn’t rely on either firm for another software issue disclosed after the crashes: a cockpit warning light that wasn’t working for most buyers.
“Boeing has many decades of experience working with supplier/partners around the world,” a company spokesman said. “Our primary focus is on always ensuring that our products and services are safe, of the highest quality and comply with all applicable regulations.”
In a statement, HCL said it “has a strong and long-standing business relationship with The Boeing Company, and we take pride in the work we do for all our customers. However, HCL does not comment on specific work we do for our customers. HCL is not associated with any ongoing issues with 737 Max.”
Starting with the 787 Dreamliner, launched in 2004, it sought to increase profits by instead providing high-level specifications and then asking suppliers to design more parts themselves. The thinking was “they’re the experts, you see, and they will take care of all of this stuff for us,” said Frank McCormick, a former Boeing flight-controls software engineer who later worked as a consultant to regulators and manufacturers. “This was just nonsense.”
Sales are another reason to send the work overseas. In exchange for an $11 billion order in 2005 from Air India, Boeing promised to invest $1.7 billion in Indian companies. That was a boon for HCL and other software developers from India, such as Cyient, whose engineers were widely used in computer-services industries but not yet prominent in aerospace.
La sous-traitance logicielle peut-elle suivre les modèles de la sous-traitance de l’industrie ?
HCL, once known as Hindustan Computers, was founded in 1976 by billionaire Shiv Nadar and now has more than $8.6 billion in annual sales. With 18,000 employees in the U.S. and 15,000 in Europe, HCL is a global company and has deep expertise in computing, said Sukamal Banerjee, a vice president. It has won business from Boeing on that basis, not on price, he said: “We came from a strong R&D background.”
Still, for the 787, HCL gave Boeing a remarkable price – free, according to Sam Swaro, an associate vice president who pitched HCL’s services at a San Diego conference sponsored by Avionics International magazine in June. He said the company took no up-front payments on the 787 and only started collecting payments based on sales years later, an “innovative business model” he offered to extend to others in the industry.
The 787 entered service three years late and billions of dollars over budget in 2011, in part because of confusion introduced by the outsourcing strategy. Under Dennis Muilenburg, a longtime Boeing engineer who became chief executive in 2015, the company has said that it planned to bring more work back in-house for its newest planes.