Boeing Vice President Kim Smith believes additive manufacturing has the ability to transform the company’s manufacturing strategy in one of the most significant ways in its history.

“Manufacturing 4.0 underscores the importance that manufacturing plays in serving customers and creating a long-term sustainable business.”

Ahundred years after founder William E. Boeing first incorporated his small start-up company in Seattle as the Pacific Aero Products Co., Boeing celebrated its centenary in 2016 as the world’s largest aerospace company and America’s biggest exporter of manufactured products.

Executive Profile:

Kim Smith
Title: Vice President & General Manager, Boeing Fabrication, Boeing Commercial Airplanes: Leader, Boeing Additive Manufacturing
Nationality: American
Education: Bachelor’s Degree, Mechanical Engineering, Michigan State University; Executive MBA & Leadership Certificate, Seattle University.
Languages: English
Previous Roles Include

  • Vice President, Attack Helicopter Programs and Mesa Senior Site Executive, Boeing Military Aircraft;
  • Vice President, Environment, Health and Safety, Boeing
  • Director, Commercial Airplanes Supplier Management, Boeing
  • Director, Commercial Airplanes Fabrication Division, Boeing
  • Senior Manager, Commercial Airplanes Manufacturing & Quality, Boeing
  • Lean / Plant Manager, GKN Sinter Metals
  • Production Engineer, Manufacturing Research and Development, Boeing

Other Industry Roles and Awards:

  • Board Member, Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board, Michigan State University
  • Board Member, League of Education Voters
  • Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA), Knight of the Honorable Order of St Michael Award

With revenues of $93 billion last year and 140,000 employees in over 65 countries working on commercial jetliners, space and defense systems, and financial services, Boeing now has more than 10,000 commercial jetliners in active service around the world and its freighters carry almost 90 percent of the world’s air cargo.

Determined to make its second century as successful as its first, Boeing has recently undertaken a number of corporate initiatives to capitalize on its long tradition of innovation and customer focus by creating new internal organizations, including the Boeing Global Services division, which consolidates its aftermarket expertise and solutions across engineering, digital analytics, supply chain, and training; its HorizonX group, which is seeking out new business ventures aimed at unlocking the next generation of game-changing ideas, products, and markets; Boeing AnalytX, bringing together 800 analytics experts from across the company to help turn data into actionable insights and data-driven customer services; and most recently, Boeing Additive Manufacturing, which combines the expertise and capabilities of a number of the company’s 3D-printing design and production activities across the organization.

Kim Smith, Vice President and General Manager of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Fabrication operations, is now leading the implementation strategy for Boeing’s additive manufacturing activities across the company.

In our latest Dialogue with a manufacturing industry thought leader, Smith talks with Executive Editor Paul Tate about the transformational potential of additive manufacturing, understanding the difference between data and meaningful information, and the importance of collaboration, leadership empathy, and enterprise agility along the journey to Manufacturing 4.0.

Q: What’s the scope of your current role at Boeing?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have some diverse experiences during my time with Boeing, and I’m in an extraordinary assignment now as Vice President and General Manager of the Commercial Airplane Fabrication team, which is the largest supplier to Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Fabrication is a worldwide organization with operations at 12 major sites in four countries and approximately 15,000 employees. We have a diverse set of capabilities where we engineer and manufacture everything from electrical and interior systems, to engine inlet assemblies, advanced composite structures, and tooling.

I was also recently appointed to lead Boeing’s effort to integrate, leverage, and accelerate our 3D printing capability across the company.

Q: What excites you most about your roles?

A: A lot of things excite me about working here. I’m extremely passionate about serving our customers and Fabrication gives me a great opportunity to connect with them, understand the missions they are carrying out, and find ways to better help their businesses.

I’m also excited by spending time with the many talented employees in Boeing and tapping into that talent. It’s hard to find me happier than when I’m just out and about, walking throughout any of our operations, talking to employees about some of the cool things that they are up to. I love it.

I’ve also got an engineering background, so the work we’re doing with additive manufacturing gives me an additional opportunity to be a part of something where we’re really pushing the envelope and advancing some of the latest 3D printing technologies.

Then there’s the diversity of the other things that we continue to evolve, including our strategies for Manufacturing 4.0. Fabrication is a critical component to ensuring good solutions for our customers, and ensuring our position as a company for our second century. If you look at some of the kind of research we’ve done at Boeing over the years, we’re super proud of our role in aerospace, and we want to build upon our strengths that have gotten us to where we are today. Now, we really want to sharpen and accelerate for our second century, to continue to make a difference around the world.

So there’s a lot of diversity, opportunity, and fun to be had in my role. It’s extremely rewarding.

Q: What’s the rationale behind the creation of Boeing’s new additive manufacturing initiative?

A: We’ve been engaging with additive manufacturing and 3D printing for some time at Boeing, and we’ve already produced around 60,000 3D-printed parts that are now in use across an array of defense and space platforms, as well as in commercial airplanes. We also recently received the very first FAA certification for a 3D-printed titanium structural component, so we’ve made some really great progress there.

There are a lot of things that have transformed manufacturing over the years, and we feel that 3D printing has the ability to transform manufacturing in one of the most significant ways in our history. I think this is a real game-changer. We are integrating our strategy and our efforts across our entire company and we’ve seen tremendous results. We’re bringing together our greatest minds to share their expertise, to share their creativity, and to share their excitement for what they can shape going forward. So we’ve developed a network centric approach, like a satellite system, that integrates the talent and capability we have across the enterprise in a way that’s agile and fast.

It also creates visibility as we communicate our plans across the company. I have employees reach out to me all the time, eager and excited to engage in our additive effort. This is giving them a vehicle to tap into that.

Q: So in what ways do you think additive manufacturing will play a transformational role?

A: The impact of the 3D printing capability is already transforming our thinking and our approach to things, and is having a very positive business impact. We’re seeing dramatic improvements in reducing costs, in optimizing the use of materials, in shortening lead times so we can bring things to market faster, and in making our production systems much more efficient.

Our engineers are also now able to design more integrated, complex structures and products that they weren’t able to before, so it provides much greater freedom to better customize and optimize design solutions for our customers and provide them with differentiating features that will help them to be successful. Our focused effort with additive manufacturing is going to allow us to create greater speed and scale, so we can accelerate the development and delivery of those customer solutions and capture more value.

So many of the barriers that are in place with traditional manufacturing methods, are being removed. 3D printing is a technology with the potential to disrupt all parts of the life cycle for manufacturing. It’s a case of, Strap in! We’re going to see a lot more exciting results to come.

Q:What’s the focus of Boeing’s new partnership with Swiss-based 3D-printing developers Oerlikon?

A: It’s a five-year collaborative research agreement, the first we’ve established since Boeing Additive Manufacturing was established, and its aim is to accelerate the development of stable metal 3D-printed materials, processing capabilities, and specifications for titanium parts using flat powder bed additive manufacturing processes. It’s really important for us, as the whole goal is to help enable Boeing to further implement lighter and stronger structural titanium parts on our products.

In many ways it’s still a relatively new technology, so there is foundational work that we need to do to develop this capability, in concert and partnership with regulatory agencies too, to ensure the quality, safety, and integrity of these components. So we’re going to be generating a lot of really useful data, and the data from this collaboration will support the qualification of additive manufacturing suppliers, to produce metallic components, using a variety of additive manufacturing machines and capabilities. So it’s really intended to get the levels of process maturation and capability that’s required so that we can continue to scale across our products.

3D printing has the ability to transform manufacturing in one of the most significant ways in our history. I think this is a real game-changer.

Q: How important are collaborative partnerships like this to driving additive manufacturing innovation and new capabilities at Boeing?

A: Partnerships are very important to us, and we’re actively engaged in both U.S. based and global research and development activities with 3D printing. We’re a founding member of the Direct Manufacturing Research Center in Germany; we’re a platinum member of America Makes at the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute; we work with Hughes Research Laboratory; we recently launched an online course in additive manufacturing design with MIT; and we’ve worked with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where we created the world’s largest solid 3D-printed item – a 1,650 pounds, 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide, 1.5 feet tall wing trim and drill demonstrator tool that was developed for the new Boeing 777X airplane. It’s even been featured in the Guinness Book of World Records!

“I think we’ve come to understand the importance of the differences between data, and meaningful and useful information, and how to use sophisticated analytic techniques to get the critical information that can be utilized for innovation and smart decision-making.”

There are clearly lots of opportunities ahead, and there are intersections to almost everything else we do. So part of this is learning where to apply additive technology alongside the other tools in our manufacturing toolkit, and where not to apply it. I think going forward, it will be part of our advanced manufacturing capability and we’ll see systems and kind of hybrid solutions tapping into an array of technologies, 3D printing being one of them.

Q: In terms of those advanced manufacturing capabilities, there’s a lot of talk in the industry today about the concept of Manufacturing 4.0. What’s your view of this trend?

A: I don’t view Manufacturing 4.0 as simply a trend. It is part of a continuing process. It underscores the awareness of the importance manufacturing plays in serving customers and creating a long-term sustainable business. How it impacts speed to market, how it impacts affordability of products and services, how it impacts the experience of your employees, I think there are exciting opportunities to be had from Manufacturing 4.0 to help in all of those areas.

Fact File:

The Boeing Company
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Business Sector: Aerospace & Defense
Revenues: $93.4 Billion (2017)
Net Profits: $8.2 Billion (2017)
People: 140,000 Employees
Market Presence: 150 Countries
Production: 12 Boeing Commercial Airplanes Fabrication manufacturing sites

Q: So how important is it for manufacturing enterprises to become more data-driven businesses for the future?

A: There’s certainly a lot of excitement about the opportunity to further apply digital approaches, and I think Boeing has a great advantage there. In our role in aerospace, we have created a lot of data over the years and gathered a lot of information. In fact, we’ve been doing analytics in some form for over 50 years, then utilizing that data to bring solutions forward. So it’s really become part of our strategic intent as a company.

Q: What have you learned over the years about how to manage and use all that data?

A: I think we’ve come to understand the importance of the differences between data, and meaningful and useful information, and how to use sophisticated analytic techniques to get the critical information that can be utilized for innovation and smart decision-making. Where that capability will serve the company to create value is critically important.

I think we’re still just scratching the surface as far as where we’re going with this, and the opportunity that’s in front of us. So one of the recent moves we’ve made is to set up a dedicated Boeing AnalytX group that brings together the work of more than 800 analytics experts from across the company who are focused on transforming data into actionable insights and new, data-driven customer services.

Again, this is something that threads through the entire life cycle, increasingly leveraging data and digital technologies when it comes to design, when it comes to supply chain, when it comes to product features and capability, and in new services solutions. It’s something where there is lots of opportunity across the entire life cycle.

Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the manufacturing industry in the next five years?

A: Well, there is tremendous opportunity in front of us today in an array of areas. One of our biggest opportunities, and one that I’m personally involved in right now, is the optimization of our supply chain. On average we procure about 65% of our products for any given program, and so the criticality of the supply chain performance – efficiency, affordability, and our ability to serve our customers – is really important. Digital platforms are absolutely a part of that, providing insights that help us to be more proactive, new ways to grasp opportunity and mitigate risks, and improving the ease of engagement with suppliers because of access to information and two-way sharing. We’ve come a long way over the years, but today there is tremendous opportunity in front of us to tap into even more value.

I think the challenge for us is the speed with which we can transform. We are a large-scale company. We serve tremendous markets that have tremendous growth. So it’s exciting times for us where we’re producing at unprecedented volumes while we’re working to transform our capabilities in some of those areas. So the speed with which we can transform is one of our challenges, and focusing on key enablers like additive manufacturing and analytics is one way for us to deal with that.

Q: What key leadership skills will be needed in a future manufacturing enterprise?

A: Obviously leaders will need a lot of different skills for the future, but two that are paramount for me are emotional intelligence and empathy. There’s a lot of information out there. There’s a lot of technology. And things around the globe are moving in a very dynamic way. At the end of the day, having good emotional intelligence and empathy to deal with that complexity, I think that will be paramount for tomorrow’s leadership.

Q: Finally, if you had to focus on one thing as a watchword or catchphrase for the future of manufacturing, what would that be and why?

A: It’s agility. Technologies like additive manufacturing are certainly great enablers for agility. But I think it’s broader than that. The ability to adapt, adjust, and stay ahead of the curve, is critical for the future of manufacturing. I think for those of us that will be able to quickly adapt to changing trends, and changing technology, we will be the ones that are most successful.

“At the end of the day, having good emotional intelligence and empathy to deal with complexity will be paramount for tomorrow’s leadership.”