Lessons learned from early missteps associated with the Boeing Dreamliner’s production system have helped cut unit costs on the 787-8 by some 15 percent over the past year and generate a 10-percent flow reduction since December, according to Boeing 787 vice president and deputy general manager Kim Pastega. Now building eight airplanes a month at is main plant in Everett, Washington, and two at its new factory in Charleston, South Carolina, Boeing has also seen a unit cost improvement of 30 percent in the recently certified 787-9 over the first six airplanes built.
Although as of mid-June it delivered only 38 airplanes this year, Boeing expects a gradual acceleration of deliveries during the last six months of the year will allow it to meet its target of 110 airplanes. Much of the reason for the imbalance stemmed from the discovery by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of some hairline cracks inside the carbon fiber wings it builds for the 787, which forced Boeing in early March to perform inspection and repairs on up to 43 airplanes, delaying some deliveries by several weeks.
“As we were ramping up we weren’t quite at 10 per month at the beginning of the year, so we have some of that,” noted Pastega. “We now have all the MHI [wing] repair behind us, so we’re now just delivering those airplanes that were [built] a little bit earlier, and then we’ll be accelerating through the Dash 9.”
Pastega explained that over the course of the last year Boeing started implementing some structural changes to the factory in Everett to help prepare it for a total production rate of 14 airplanes a month by the end of the decade. Most notably, perhaps, the company has already added a fifth position to the line and split its structures build area into two parts. Now mechanics perform wing-to-body join in what Boeing calls position 1A and circular joins in position 1B.
“It’s done a couple of things; it has allowed us to work concurrently on our critical path in our major structures areas,” said Pastega. “In any airplane assembly, getting through your major structural joins–be it wings or be it the circular joins–is the bottleneck of the factory. So being efficient there is really a key to long term efficient production.”
The separation of jobs has also accelerated learning among the mechanics, said Pastega, allowing not only for the increase to 10 airplanes a month early this year, but for the team performing the circular joins to demonstrate a 20-percent improvement over the time it takes to maintain the current rate.
Since reaching the 10-per-month rate, added Pastega, Boeing has seen 787s leave the final assembly factory at a level of completeness comparable to that of a typical 777–evidence of the stability Boeing has sought ahead of implementation of some of the so-called lean principles it now applies to the 737 and 777.
Meanwhile, as the company prepares for more changes in the transition to the 777X, it will abandon an area near the 787 line where it now engages in 777 aft fuselage production, leaving that space open for 787 parts now located on the surge line. Once complete, that process will result in seven positions on a single line, as Boeing eliminates the surge line “over the next couple of years.”