In my view, it is the FAA that failed. Before it was assumed that the supply chain was managed inside the manufacturing company. With this new approach, the parts and the supplier qualifications directly influence the airworthiness or the aircraft should rule on this. Now every times I will step into a Dreamliner I will ask myself, are all parts used to built this aircraft matches the quality of the aircraft the FAA certified?
I think that whenever you sublet out parts of production there is a risk. The risk may not show up, or it may show up at some point due to "minor" changes back at some factory. It makes me wonder just how all the planes and cool technology vehicles really keep running...
Bert re: "So using Toyota as the gold standard seems far-fetched at best."
That's an excellent point. Even if Toyota is a very good vehicle, the best cars have poorer safety records than modern commercial airliners. I don't think there's a safer place in the world to be right now than on a commercial airliner in the developed world.
Further, it's not just the quality of the specific vehicle that counts. A car gets built, gets its oil changed every few thousand miles. A commercial airliner is a vehicle and a complete system of maintenance and oversight.
As you say, a car is not at all comparable to an airplane of this sort.
I think that when things like this happens, all the onlookers feel the need to scamper about to create some core reason why it happened.
For example I would reply to the article, "And yet even Toyota has been plagued by problems." And surely a car is not comparable to an airplane, when it comes to onboard systems that potentially could create reliability problems. So using Toyota as the gold standard seems far-fetched at best.
It is definitely risky business to deal with too many suppliers. Boeing probably had some political motivations too, to take on this approach. To show how the whole country, or even world, was engaged in this product. Good PR business.
The bottom line is, the battery design showed some vulnerabilities which caused a problem. Would different management action have made any difference? Could more "face-to-face" meetings have made any difference? Maybe or maybe not. The vast majority of "face-to-face" meetings I've had to bear seem mostly designed to give the windbags a chance to pontificate to a captive audience. And to be spoonfed information without any effort on their part.
As a non-participant in that design, and as an engineer and not a manager, my emotional gut feel would have been to test the living bejeezus out of the Li-Ion batteries, just because of all the thermal runaway problems that have been reported in the past. So a couple of them had problems. I wouldn't try so hard to find some core reason why this happened. A new supplier might be in order, though.
Trust but verify.
You can never do too much testing to verify a technology before you bet the farm on its use. I'm not saying that Boeing didn't test the batteries, but it looks like another Hubble Telescope error from my view point.
Just my opinion.