This is the last thing that any engineer wants to see -- somebody "let the smoke out."
An employee of SecuraPlane, who actually makes the batteries used in the 787 (I'll explain below the orange smoke) was fired, allegedly for "pointing out dangerous shortcomings in the design of an electrical component Securaplane was designing for Boeing’s new 787."  


OK, this gets a little confusing at first so bear with me.   You have all probably seen the burnt-out box that the media calls "the battery" that has been removed from a couple of 787 planes.   When we think of batteries, we think of mass produced products like the AC Delco in our car.   That is not the case for aircraft batteries, particularly lithium ion batteries that have not been used in commercial aircraft before.   Instead, this sort of battery is hand assembled out of eight individual 3.7 volt cells placed in a large metal box with a charger and monitoring circuit.   The whole thing is "modular" meaning that instead of wiring in batteries, the aircraft technician plugs the box into the plane using simple, robust connectors and life is good.

Now in the battery fiasco, the Japanese firm GSYuasa builds the actual 3.7 (nominal) volt cells which are probably mass produced and used in many different applications (http://www.gsyuasa-lp.com/...).  The Arizona firm SecuraPlane (http://www.securaplane.com/) builds the chargers, although they admit that they build subassemblies in Vietnam which means that the actual "build" part is likely done by low paid labor.    I do not know who puts it all together in the box, but would bet that it is SecuraPlane, probably using the same low-paid workers in Vietnam.   The irony of a Vietnamese worker making profits for Boeing and McDonald Douglass executives cannot be ignored, since not so many years ago those same executives made their profits by dropping nasty stuff on said worker's relatives.

Anyway, I have been trying to find out more about this Securaplane company, which seems to have been fairly small ($5M sales, around 100 employees) until it was acquired by industry titan Legitt.   To what kind of firm is Boeing outsourcing not only manufacturing, but also design?    How good are their designs?    Do I want to fly on a plane where one of the most critical parts is designed by them?

By doing a little very basic looking on the internet I come across a very intriguing lawsuit by a Securaplane employee.

The employer, Securaplane, designs and manufactures smoke detection systems, camera systems, and battery chargers for airlines and manufacturers. The complainant, Leon, was an engineering technician. Securaplane fired him for his erratic and hostile workplace behavior, about which other employees complained. Leon claimed he was fired for pointing out dangerous shortcomings in the design of an electrical component Securaplane was de-signing for Boeing’s new 787.  After a trial, the ALJ ruled that Leon had engaged in AIR21-protected activity when he complained that design documents for the component contained discrepancies, including a discrepancy between the intended design and the design as represented on the schematic. The schematic also may have depicted a short in the component’s circuit board. Securaplane argued that these concerns were not protected because the discrepancies were not actually nonconformities and because discrepancies among multiple drawings at the design stage are common, not problems.

When engineering firm has to argue in court that "discrepancies are not actually nonconformities" then I do not get a very good feeling about the quality of their work.

Originally posted to Orcas George on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:51 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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