The last Boeing machine shop doing military work in the Puget Sound area will close this summer.
In the future, the Boeing Defense, Space & Security division, known as BDS, will send its short-notice, metal-machining work — a critical capability — to Huntington Beach, Calif.
A team of about a dozen of Boeing’s most senior and highly skilled machinists work at the shop, inside the company’s large research building wedged between the Museum of Flight and the Duwamish Waterway.
Using computer-controlled machines they program themselves, they can fabricate from digital models any urgently needed, made-to-order parts, prototypes or tooling. They make parts for airplanes such as the P-8 anti-submarine jet, which is equipped with military systems in a nearby building.
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Scott Highet, a team lead in the shop, said the company will find jobs for all the displaced employees within the Commercial Airplanes division.
But by August, he said, “Machining in BDS is going to be gone in the Puget Sound area.”
Boeing said BDS has to vacate the building — formerly known as the Developmental Center, but now renamed the Advanced Developmental Composites facility — because Boeing Commercial is taking over the entire space to do composite research for the 787 and 777X jet programs.
While several small BDS units including a wire shop are moving to Kent, the machine shop is simply closing.
Boeing’s recent announcements that it will transfer the work of thousands of engineers out of state have badly strained workforce relations. But the reaction is more muted in the case of this small team that doesn’t face layoff.
And Highet said he does see some logic to sending the machining work to California.
Once machined, metal parts typically undergo finishing with chemical treatments such as anodizing or chrome plating. Boeing has that capability locally, in Auburn for instance, but only within the Commercial Airplanes unit, which is not allowed to do work for the military division.
So the local BDS machine shop now routinely sends parts to outside vendors for metal finishing.
In contrast, the shop in Huntington Beach has the complete capability to machine and finish parts in-house.
“Even though you are flying parts up and down the coast, that’s a small time cost,” said Highet. “You just send them a model and a work order and boom, it’s in work the next day. So flow time is very short.”
Highet said he’s unlikely to find work elsewhere in Boeing as highly skilled and satisfying, but he’s not protesting.
“I have 30 years in. I’m not going anywhere. They’ll pick me up in Auburn,” he said. “Sometimes you have to roll with the punches.”
Jim Levitt, another member of the machinist team, expressed more dismay at the loss of local capability.
Thirty years ago, he said, BDS machine shops employed about 400 people and had full capability for chemical treating of metals. He said the unit shrank steadily over the years and Boeing outsourced the chemical treating.
Today, his team sometimes has to call in an engineer from the P-8 building up the road to figure out the intricacies the designers want in some project, he said.
But after this move, “what’s missing is that interaction,” Levitt said. “From California, maybe they can Skype.”
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org