Production of the Boeing 777X will employ about 10 percent more factory workers than the 777 line today, a Boeing executive said Tuesday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new 777X composite wing center behind the main widebody jet plant in Everett.
Eric Lindblad, vice president in charge of the 777X wing, declined to be more specific. But two years ago Boeing cited a figure of about 3,400 people working on the 777 inside the factory — implying more than 300 additional jobs on the 777X.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, attended by Washington state’s two U.S. senators, Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner praised the support from local government in speeding permits for construction and said the 1 million-square-foot project is already seven weeks ahead of schedule.
Conner said the advanced manufacturing technology to be housed in the wing facility “will be the backbone in the future not only of this company but of this region and the Puget Sound community.”
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Conner said Boeing plans to invest more than $1 billion in new wing and fuselage facilities for the 777X project in Everett.
To build the 777 today in Everett, Boeing assembles the current metal wing and then does final assembly of the whole airframe inside the main assembly plant.
For 777X, Boeing adds the work of fabricating the wing, which is an advanced composite material built up from layers of carbon-fiber tape infused with epoxy resin.
Inside the new wing facility, Boeing will fabricate the separate pieces that make up the wing: the front and rear spars that run along the leading and trailing edges of the wing; the upper and lower wing skin panels; and the stiffening rods called stringers that give rigidity to the wing skins.
To make the spars and skins, Boeing will use automated fiber-placement machines made by Electroimpact in Mukilteo, just across the Paine Field runway from the jet-assembly plant.
This fabrication work inside the wing facility will be done in “clean room” conditions, free of dust. Much of it will be automated.
The parts will be cured, or hardened, in high-pressure ovens called autoclaves. The new wing facility will have three autoclaves measuring 35 feet in diameter and 120 feet long, among the largest in the world.
The stringers will be preformed and cured separately, then bonded to the uncured skin panels before going into the autoclave.
Once completed, the spars and the skin panels with stringers attached will then be brought into the main assembly building.
There, the 777X wing will be put together, including a separate set of one-piece aluminum ribs assembled like the rungs of a ladder between the front and rear spars before the skins are added.
Linblad said this assembly process too will be highly automated and Boeing will train the current 777 workforce in the new technology.
“We’ll work to adjust their skill sets so they fit into the modified production system,” he said.
Lindblad also confirmed that Boeing will do final assembly of the first 777X jets in the assembly bay of the main building that today is occupied by a temporary “surge” line for the 787 Dreamliner.
That line will be used for about three years for initial, low-rate 777X production, allowing Boeing “to work out some of the bugs as we bring the new technology online,” Lindblad said.
After that, Boeing will transition 777X production onto the main 777 production line.
Speaking at the groundbreaking, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said the new wing facility promises to “revolutionize the industry.”
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said the facility “solidifies us in the Pacific Northwest as a center for advanced composite materials” and will ensure that the company and the state stay at the forefront of global airplane manufacturing.
Boeing plans to take occupancy of the new wing facility in May 2016 and to build its first production parts in 2017.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org