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November/December 2009

Laura HitchcockStandards: The Boeing Approach

An Interview with Laura Hitchcock

As senior standards specialist and external standards project manager for Boeing, and with decades of experience in this area, Laura Hitchcock details the corporation’s strategic approach to developing and using standards.

How does The Boeing Company approach standardization?

Boeing has long recognized standardization as a key element of its business strategies and standards as essential tools. Our corporate policy was specifically established to “promote standardization of our products, processes, systems and information, enabling the best use of our company assets, allowing a flexible distribution of work and maximizing customer value.” The policy continues, “To this end, Boeing will employ companywide standards, including industry standards.”

To be involved in standards at Boeing is to work to capture and communicate the technical knowledge needed to produce exceptional aerospace products. For our standards professionals this means:

  • Providing an infrastructure to coordinate and establish a single set of Boeing standards requirements;
  • Ensuring a link between our standards activities and our technology and business strategies;
  • Ensuring that our technical requirements are met by the standards we help to develop;
    Leveraging the technical knowledge and relationships gained through participation in standards activities; and
  • Promoting Boeing and our technical experts as leaders in aerospace and in the standards community.

What is the structure and function of Boeing’s internal standards organization?

Boeing has arguably the largest corporate standards program in the world, with well over 110,000 Boeing standards created, managed and distributed through an on-line system.

Close to 170 employees make up the corporate standards group known as the Product Standards Office. These include standards engineers, standards specialists, information technology personnel and project managers who are responsible for the development, maintenance and distribution of Boeing’s internal company standards. It’s like having a standards development organization inside the company.

In addition to our full-time standards professionals, we have hundreds of part-time standards engineers and contributors. These are technical experts in our business units who, in addition to their daily tasks, are responsible for the content of Boeing standards. These standards custodians, or key engineers, are responsible for working with their counterparts to create and maintain this mountain of technical data. We expect that these experts know the technical issues relative to their areas of expertise, understand the business reasons behind their standards, understand how the standards they work on will be used and know how the standards will support quality and safety, govern procurement or support product certification by such regulatory agencies as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

How does Boeing interact with outside standards development organizations?

Boeing is, in addition to our use of internal standards, probably the largest corporate consumer of external standards, employing standards from more than 120 different organizations outside Boeing. These can include specifications and standards from government agencies, industry and professional societies, consortia and international organizations. These standards cover almost all the technologies and processes involved in maintaining our infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities as well as the product definition of our aircraft.

The Boeing External Standards Management Group, housed alongside our corporate Product Standards Office, estimates that more than 800 Boeing engineers and technical experts participate on more than 425 external committees to develop standards used by Boeing. Many are the same technical fellows or subject matter experts responsible for internal Boeing standards in the same technology areas. And as with internal standards, there are hundreds more Boeing personnel involved indirectly in reviewing those draft standards. This work represents a significant but necessary investment on the part of the company.

This standards group is also responsible for company-wide strategies and policies related to external standards. This is the function for which I’m responsible. We develop Boeing positions on issues related to the governance of key standards-setting organizations. We collaborate with other industry players regarding policy and governance objectives. We also work with government policymakers, regulators, procurement officials, academics, think tanks and other influential entities on standards-related issues. My colleagues and I collaborate internally with all our business units and technology areas to ensure that our standards policies and positions support Boeing’s technical and business needs. We provide leadership at the governance level in key standards setting organizations, and we represent Boeing at conferences, relevant trade associations and policy discussions with standards organizations.

Those involved with standards at Boeing work to make certain that external standards, used in concert with our internal standards, ensure that we have the most reliable, high quality products available. Our products’ certification and acceptance is largely based on these standards; their continued safe operation depends on these standards. For these reasons we have built a robust, company-wide standards system to ensure the integrity and suitability of this data whether developed in-house or through an external standards organization.

How do standards make a difference for Boeing and its business?

Boeing believes very strongly in the benefits of standards and standardization; the company has been creating standards since it began in 1916. For Boeing, standards provide the essential language of technical precision, quality and performance. Standards are the single largest source of technical data used in the design and build of our products; they are vital to achieving our goals of lean, efficient design and production systems as well as large-scale, complex systems integration.

Every Boeing product has an extensive suite of standards that covers its features, manufacture, testing and operation, from very basic materials and parts all the way up to overarching standards governing health, safety, environment and quality requirements and expectations.

When Boeing needs a standard, we have the choice of developing it internally or going to an external organization to collaborate with the rest of industry on a standards solution. We make the decision based on the proprietary nature of the technology, how dynamic it is and whether or not it makes better business sense to control the standard ourselves or whether it’s better to work to shape the rest of the industry. Often, after working with a Boeing standard for a while, we’ll opt to take it to an external venue as the basis for an industry standard. But always there’s a flow of information both ways — our internal standards reference external standards and data from our internal standards go out to the rest of the industry. We constantly work to ensure the optimal balance between internal and external that makes the best business sense for our products and our customers.

Commercial packaging is one example of how Boeing uses standards. Boeing receives millions of parts from suppliers all over the world to incorporate on our planes. How these parts are packaged for shipping is critical to ensure that the parts are not damaged in transit; it is vital for each and every packaging job to succeed.

We have an enterprise-wide packaging technical team composed of experts who deal with the issues of packaging, shipping and storing parts and materials. Over the years these experts have developed an internal packaging standard that we require our suppliers to meet. Boeing recently took our internal document requirements and submitted them to ASTM’s Subcommittee D10.18 on Miscellaneous Packaging, a part of Committee D10 on Packaging. Many of them were incorporated into the latest revision of ASTM D3951, Practice for Commercial Packaging. By working with ASTM International, we could help bridge the gap between our tried-and-true best practices and those contained in an industry-wide standard. By enhancing and bringing the industry standard used by packaging engineers in line with our needs, we helped keep our company competitive and we made life easier for our suppliers.

What role do standards play in Boeing’s business globally? What issues does Boeing encounter with regard to different markets?

Because aerospace standards are so important for the global certification, sale and safe operation of aircraft, the aerospace industry works cooperatively in multiple venues to develop them. While Boeing has many company proprietary standards, once the business case is made to use a standard developed externally, the goal is a standard that is used and accepted as widely as possible throughout the industry.

Many countries accept the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations as their national code and the Federal Aviation Regulations prescribed by the FAA, which contain specific aircraft regulatory requirements. In some countries, however, there are additional regulations and requirements that must be taken into consideration when certificating aircraft for export. When regulatory agencies outside the United States, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency, accept the same standards to satisfy requirements as the FAA does, certification becomes much easier.

Conflicting national or regional standards increase the costs of certification, reduce the number of available suppliers, and raise material and parts costs. Similarly, multiple certification and conformity assessment schemes add cost, but little value. Boeing helped drive the formation of the International Aerospace Quality Group, which manages the Quality standards used by the entire industry and which has been so successful in reducing costs worldwide for its members.

We also actively encourage all aerospace stakeholders to resist creating duplicative standards infrastructures and to increase participation in existing venues that meet World Trade Organization standards development criteria. Boeing has been a part of an industry that, until now, has seen relatively few companies competing for the world’s market. Most of these have been in North America and Europe, but that is changing with
Russia, Canada, Brazil, China and Japan updating or starting to develop commercial aircraft.

Another standards issue that Boeing faces is the huge task of monitoring and responding to changes in standards-based policies worldwide. Different industry sectors have different business models, production processes and product life cycles, and therefore different standards needs. Some industries have product development times of less than 18 months and product life cycles of three years or less. Aerospace can have product development times of 10 years, and our products can operate for more than 50 years. Various industries also have different regulatory, security and certification requirements that may require different standardization models. Boeing has to be ever vigilant about national or regional standards policies that would limit our selection of the most appropriate standard or standards models to those more appropriate to another industry. The risk to public safety and product quality is too great to allow our industry’s standards to suffer from broad policy changes promoted by other industries or for our company to be prevented from using the best technical data, regardless of which organization developed it.

How does the work of the different organizations you’re involved in, such as ASTM, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and SAE International, fit together? How is each group’s work valuable?

Boeing depends on external standards from many developers and chooses them based on technical merit and what best suits the design or manufacturing need. All the different parts, materials and systems defined by these standards work together in that engineering marvel we call an airplane. Often the connections between the standards are also close. An SAE part standard calls out a material defined by an ASTM standard. An Aerospace Industries Association bolt standard cites an SAE coating material standard. A Mil-Spec (military specification) circuit breaker standard directs our users to an IEEE installation test standard. The SAE, ASTM, Mil-Spec and IEEE standards are all called out on our drawings and incorporated into our product definition data in accordance with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Y14.5, Dimensioning and Tolerancing. One could chain together literally thousands of standards from different organizations that all have to work in concert.

Very few standards stand alone, and no standards developing organization is an island. A Boeing study determined that more than 95 percent of our internal standards reference at least one external standard; they all form part of this vast, interwoven web of technical data we depend on for product design, manufacture and operation. While around 80 percent of our external standards come from only 15 organizations, and we spend proportionately more resources working with those organizations, we cannot ignore the others. We have cases where we use only two or three standards from an organization, but those few standards are so critical to an aspect of our business that we are at the table helping to develop them.

It is too simplistic to think of standards developers as just “suppliers” of technical data. Once Boeing has selected a standard to define a part, a material, an engineering process and test, etc., it becomes part of the data needed to build and maintain that aircraft for the product life (50 years or more). Our subject matter experts need to constantly ensure that the standards continue to work with all the other standards. Our interactions with our standards developers are too critical and too interdependent to be treated as mere transactions. These are relationships — partnerships that are necessary to all aspects of our business.


Laura E. Hitchcock is the senior standards specialist and corporate project manager for external standards management, strategy and policy, at The Boeing Company, Seattle, Wash. In this position she focuses on the strategic standardization management of policies and processes in the national and international standards arena in support of aerospace standards. Hitchcock has more than 30 years of experience in standards. She joined Boeing’s Corporate Engineering Standards Department in 1985 and assumed her current role in 1993. A former member of the ASTM board of directors and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers board of governors, she currently serves on the board of directors of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Center for Global Standards Analysis and the American National Standards Institute, where she is a vice chair. In addition, Hitchcock is a member of the board of directors of SAE International, a member of the SAE Technical Standards Board and chair of the SAE Aerospace Council — the governing body over the largest aerospace standards program in the world.