Farnborough Air Show

787 the product of a bold new doctrine

 - November 14, 2006, 10:44 AM

Boeing adopted the mantle of systems integrator in a big way with the 787, calling on a group of international partners to produce complete subassemblies for an aircraft that it will assemble in days. It also took the bold step of opting for a composite primary structure throughout, with advantages including lower maintenance costs, increased airframe life and significantly reduced weight.

With an all-composite airframe for the first time on a commercial airliner, Boeing looked around for composite specialists, starting with companies that had produced such components for its earlier aircraft, particularly the 777. The U.S. airframer wanted firms familiar with its “Working Together” philosophy.

According to Mike Bair, vice president and general manager of the 787 program, Boeing gained valuable experience with composite 777 floor beams, which although expensive, allowed it to gain experience and confidence with composites. The challenge then was whether it could adapt the required production techniques to build at a sufficient rate. It solved the problem in two ways–licensing the innovative process of a Canadian Kevlar sailboat manufacturer, and deciding to find partners to produce subassemblies in parallel.

The formation of Global Aeronautica in 2004 allowed Boeing to use a two-stage assembly process, whereby Vought and Alenia build a major section of the fuselage outside of Seattle. Boeing will also bring in fuselage and wing elements from Italy, Japan and the U.S. in 747 Large Cargo Freighters (LCF)–the first of which was completed in June.

Scott Strode, Boeing vice president of the 787 program, told Aviation International News that all the subassemblies will come together at the manufacturer’s vast Everett facility north of Seattle. Final assembly using the second 777 line–soon to be freed up thanks to increased production efficiency on the main 777 assembly line. The 787 line initially will be a “pulsed moving line” segueing to a continuous moving line later.

Boeing is also sticking strictly to a standard airframe, with customization available only after the aircraft has left the assembly line. “Customization will be part of our delivery operation,” said Strode, so final assembly can run smoothly. The manufacturer has learned the hard way that customization can jeopardize efficient production, as has its competitor, Airbus, with the A380 in recent weeks.

For airframe assembly, Global Aeronautica will integrate Section 43 from Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) with Section 44 from Italy, along with Section 11/45 (the center wing box/wheel well assembly from Fuji Heavy Industries in Japan) and Section 46. It will ship that assembly in the LCF from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Sections 47 and 48 are joined and shipped separately from Global Aeronautica. Former Boeing subsidiary Spirit Aerostructures in Wichita, Kansas, dispatches the nose section on the LCF to Everett, complete with nose gear– again, with all systems and equipment already installed.

Dallas, Texas-based Vought (Chalet A15) has built a new factory in North Charleston, South Carolina, where it will produce Sections 47 and 48 of the 787 aft fuselage, joining the first seven shipsets. After that, it leaves the whole integration to Global Aeronautica, whose factory is conveniently located next door.

Completed in March, the Vought factory has a vast clean room, an automatic fiber placement machine, one of the world’s largest autoclaves (at 75 feet long by 30 feet in diameter), a trim and drill machine and a nondestructive machine to test ultrasonically for voids (that is, excess porosity).

The first production fuselage section will leave the factory in the first quarter of next year, heading straight to Global Aeronautica. Vought site general manager Mark Dickey said the company has room for a second production line if Boeing decides to increase production to meet demand.

The flow through the factory is similar for all the international partners. Layers of graphite-epoxy resin are applied to a huge Invar mandrel, then a bag is placed over the graphite before it leaves the bonding room to be “cooked” in the autoclave for eight to 10 hours. It then goes to be “debagged,” before reaching the trim and drill machines, then to nondestructive testing and to the “TAC” cell, where metal structural elements are tacked into place.

The Global Aeronautica plant at Charleston is currently gearing up to assemble the center fuselage sections and wing box from Japan and Italy (along with wing fairings from Boeing-Winnipeg). The site has undergone a transformation from a swamp to a new factory in just one year. Although installation of machinery is not as advanced as at Vought–there is a deliberate 90-day lag–the capital equipment is due to be installed in December, in time to assemble the first 60,000-pound, 85-foot center 787 fuselage section for transportation by LCF to Everett.

Global Aeronautica will also complete the Section 47/48 assembly from Vought, integrating hydraulics, wiring harnesses and so forth, before final inspection and loading on LCF bound for Seattle. A special taxiway to the airfield is under construction.

The factory layout allows for a moving assembly line, with three lines of mid-section and one for the aftsection, which will move proportionately faster. Vice president and general manager Newt Newton is confident everything will run as a “well-orchestrated path around the world, although we really need to get the sequencing right early on.”

Gugliano Caruso, 787 project director for Alenia, explained that the company was involved with Boeing since early 2000 with the abandoned Sonic Cruiser program and then in the 787 joint definition stage between June 2003 and October last year.

At its Grottaglie plant, located near the port of Tarranto, in Italy’s “heel,” Alenia (Outside Exhibit OE2) is gearing up to manufacture Sections 44 and 46 and the horizontal stabilizer (at its Foggia plant). The firm has constructed a vast production facility at Grottaglie Airport, the “one-piece barrel building” covering an area the size of 15 soccer fields pitches with what is claimed to be the biggest clean room in Europe.

The fabrication area was completed in June and the assembly area will be completed in the third quarter of this year. The runway is being extended by 5,900 feet to 10,500 feet to accommodate the LCF aircraft.

Fernando de Maria, Alenia manufacturing manager, said the plant has Europe’s largest autoclave. At 59 feet long and almost 28 feet in diameter, it is already sized for the 787-9 model and will cure sections at 248 degrees F and 6 atmospheres of pressure.

In the building, a single “S” flow has been planned for production, from clean room to fabrication and then to assembly, and finally to loading on to the LCF. The target is to produce one set of two barrel sections every three days. De Maria said there is room to add a second trim and drill machine if necessary, should Boeing choose to ramp up production.

Toshihiro Ikai, 787 group general manager for the Japan Aircraft Development Corp., explained that his firm manages the Japanese contract with Boeing and subcontracts with the Heavy Industries trio of Fuji (FHI), Kawasaki (KHI) and Mitsubishi (MHI). Japanese industry will produce 35 percent of the 787 structure. Here at Farnborough International, all of these firms can be found at Hall 2 Stand C17.

KHI signed an agreement with Boeing in May 2005 and is responsible for a forward fuselage “one-piece barrel” section (Section 43), three main landing-gear- well elements for dispatch to FHI and fixed-trailing-edge structure for delivery to MHI.

The plant has already started with parts fabrication and the first structural sections will be dispatched to FHI this summer, according to its 787 program manager, Hirokazu Komaki. The composite parts contrast with those for previous Boeing aircraft in their distinct lack of other fasteners, as so few are required.

A panel-fastening machine will be ready by the end of this month so integration of metal elements and systems into the first production subassembly can commence later in the year. “The factory is mostly ready for use and we are installing and qualifying the machines,” said Komaki. A Kawasaki subsidiary produces the autoclave. Although Boeing takes a lead in manufacturing planning, it leaves the details, such as what machines are used, to the partners.

In late June the plant was preparing to cure some Section 45 main landing gear bay test parts for preproduction tests, and the first production parts were due to be produced this month. Twenty-one items are planned for preproduction verification, all of which will have been completed by the end of this year. The first fixed trailing edge will be shipped this summer and the wheel well elements by the end of the year. The first Section 43 will be shipped early next year.

FHI’s 787 program manager, Yasuhiro Toi, said the company’s two new facilities on the Handa peninsula south of Nagoya are almost ready to commence production. Hideyuki Sano, general manager for production engineering, said the new West Handa composite building will cure the center wing box (Section 11) upper and lower panels in its autoclave before shipping to the new assembly plant two miles away.

The company completed the first test piece, a trial half-box, at its Utsunomiya plant, 60 miles north of Tokyo, in May, and shipped the piece to Boeing for electromagnetic energy testing. It produced three more test panels and started the first production panel in mid-June. Production of the panels will start with manual lay-up of the pre-preg, with an automated laying up machine coming on line in September, beginning with shipset seven.

The wing box will be assembled using the upper and lower panels, front and rear spars and three spanwise beams–making Section 11 before Section 11/45 integration occurs to produce the 30-foot-long subassembly. According to Toi, the entire assembly will weigh around 10,000 pounds. “If it were produced using aluminum it would weigh 20 percent more,” he added.

Up to 10 shipsets a month are being produced using two assembly lines, each assembly is transported on a barge to Nagoya’s Centrair airport before being shipped to Global Aeronautica in Charleston on an LCF.

“It is very interesting to contrast the 787 panels with the 777 panels [also produced at the West Handa facility], and note the obvious reduced cost of manufacture and of maintenance for the customers in the longer run,” noted Boeing’s Strode.

Boeing awarded MHI the outer wing box work package. The Nagoya Aerospace Systems Works will produce the 100- by 20-foot wing box that will be shipped from Centrair to Everett on an LCF, explained Takashima Fujimoto, MHI 787 program director.

For Boeing’s certification process, MHI had to produce a 40-foot panel for testing–a combined tension/shear test–while a 23-foot box test was undertaken in Nagoya along with a fuel seal test on a preproduction box. The company’s 787 assembly line will be complete by the end of August.