James Renaud: Getting Ready for Liftoff

When work goes well for James Renaud, rockets soar into space. Literally.

As director of development operations for Boeing Company, Renaud is in charge of the group that builds prototypes of Boeing products, such as the Delta IV launch vehicle that blasts satellites into orbit.

“Having a successful launch makes my day,” Renaud says.

Renaud’s 300-person team at Boeing’s Huntington Beach, Calif., facility includes manufacturing technicians, as well as production control employees who manage supply chain functions such as procurement, parts follow-up, shipping and receiving, and inventory control.

In addition to the Delta IV, Renaud’s team works on development versions of components for the International Space Station and on numerous aircraft, including, most recently, Boeing’s new 787.

Manufacturing products under development poses some unique supply chain pressures. “We don’t build 100 units; we build one. All parts are vital, and getting them on time with a high degree of quality is critical,” Renaud says.

Technical challenges abound. “In many cases, we work closely with engineering. As they design a product, we build it,” he explains.

That means product specifications are continually in flux, and the manufacturing team receives numerous change requests. Renaud and his team need to quickly communicate those changes internally, as well as externally to the supply base, in order to react.

When building a prototype, communicating and coordinating with suppliers is key. “We have to be clear on requirements and definitions to make sure we get the exact part we’re looking for,” he explains.

If a part is late, the delay has a bigger impact on the development program than it does on a program that turns out product in large numbers. “We don’t have a backlog of parts to pick from,” says Renaud, so the operation can quickly grind to a halt.

Because volume discounts are not an option for a development program, Renaud’s team relies on value engineering to help control the cost of materials and parts. This often means “changing the design to more effectively facilitate a manufacturing process,” Renaud explains.

If one part offers a certain tolerance for heat, pressure, or another factor, but a lower tolerance level is also acceptable and reduces costs, the team might decide to use the lower-tolerance part. Boeing continually brings together engineers and suppliers to discuss these kinds of trade-offs.

As for the Delta IV, it’s no wonder Renaud feels a pulse of pride whenever one shoots into space. One of his major career challenges came from 1998 to 2001, when he helped set up a 1.5-million-square-foot factory in Decatur, Ala., to produce that launch vehicle.

“We had to procure large milling equipment, devise a chemical processing line, set up all the tools we needed to build the project, outfit the factory, and hire people—all on an abbreviated schedule,” he says.

The plant was able to produce products before construction of the factory was completed. “That was a great accomplishment,” Renaud says. “Ultimately, we had a successful first launch of the Delta IV rocket.”

The Big Questions

Ideal dinner companion?

Douglas MacArthur. I’m a military history buff, so I would be interested in hearing his thoughts on his World War II accomplishments.

What’s in your briefcase?

My laptop, calculator, and various work papers.

First web site you look at in the morning?

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I have two young daughters who are active in soccer and softball. They have two sets of practices and games, and I’m constantly involved in the logistics of shuttling them from place to place.

If you didn’t work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

Something that involves working with people and projects. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment from finishing a project successfully. And I like working with people to achieve that.

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