Share story

Mukilteo-based aerospace-engineering firm Electroimpact has won the contract to build the automated fiber placement (AFP) machines and systems that Boeing will use to produce the giant carbon-fiber composite wings of the coming 777X aircraft.

Boeing will use the AFP machines to build up the long beams called spars inside the wing box, as well as the wing skin panels.

Electroimpact, which announced the contract Wednesday, declined to disclose its value.

However, it has built small AFP machines that cost about $5 million each and bigger ones at $25 million each. The Boeing 777X machines, the latest and most sophisticated yet, are probably stretching the high end of that range.

“We’re promising some of the fastest lay-down rates in the industry,” said Electroimpact Vice President John Hartmann. “Boeing will see a big step-change in productivity.”

Hartmann said the initial contract is to supply Boeing two machines for the 777X wing panels and two for the spars, but he expects follow-on orders for more machines.

“Boeing will definitely need more machines later to meet the production rates they want to make,” Hartmann said. “This is a huge win for us.”

Electroimpact will design and build the machines in a new 30,000-square-foot, temperature-controlled building now under construction in Mukilteo, two miles from Boeing’s Everett widebody-jet plant.

Hartmann said it should be finished later this year.

Sometime in 2016, the AFP machines will be installed in a new Boeing building currently under construction behind the main Everett jet-assembly building.

“It’ll be so nice to work across the street instead of the other side of the world,” Hartmann said.

Electroimpact has about 670 employees worldwide, all but 100 or so in Mukilteo. It has been hiring engineers since last spring, and Hartmann said the target is between 710 and 750 employees.

Todd Rudberg, Electroimpact’s AFP project manager, said a team of 45 engineers will work on the 777X machines.

The company started out designing and building automated drilling and fastening machines and then complete systems that are used to assemble metal wings for Airbus in Wales and composite wings for Bombardier in Northern Ireland.

With its design of AFP machines, it diversified beyond assembling pieces into fabricating composite parts.

It supplied earlier versions of AFP machines to Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kan., where they are used to build up the Boeing 787 front fuselage section and the Airbus A350 fuselage panels.

The latest machines have removable circular robotic heads that carry multiple creels of carbon-fiber ribbon and can swiftly move around a complex shape, laying down thin ribbons of the black fiber with pinpoint accuracy.

After the skin is built up in this way, Boeing will bake it to hardness in a giant pressure oven called an autoclave.

Electroimpact beat out strong competition to supply the 777X machines.

The other main suppliers of AFP machines in the world are Ingersoll of Rockford, Ill.; Fives Group, based in Paris; and expanding multinationals such as MTorres of Spain, which in 2012 bought Bothell-based Pacifica Engineering.

Hartmann said Electroimpact is bidding on further 777X work, including machines for the automated fuselage manufacturing that Boeing plans.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com