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Feature Story

Boeing 777 moves to a quicker pace

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Boeing is re-arranging its 767 production line in an effort to transform it into a faster and leaner operation.

Boeing 767 moves toward new leaner future

By Bernard Choi

It's like re-arranging the furniture in your house, if your furniture weighs up to 200-tons (181.4-metric ton) each.

Adrian Butler

BOEING/BERNARD CHOI

This giant tooling apparatus is used to build the nose of a 767. Weighing 200 tons, it includes a jig and the surrounding scaffolding.

"Two hundred tons is a lot of weight, more than what our overhead cranes can handle," said Boeing tooling engineer Kelson Na.

Inside Boeing's final assembly plant in Everett, Wash., Na and others are dealing with these logistical challenges as they reposition the 767 production line toward a leaner operation.

Recently, the team moved a behemoth jig that is encased in scaffolding. The 200-ton tool is used to build the nose of a 767 jetliner.

"We've never done this before," said Boeing toolmaker Mark Severson.

Since the apparatus was too heavy for the overhead cranes in the factory, the initial plan was to dismantle it piece by piece and then rebuild it.

"Having to put it together is very difficult and time-consuming," said Denise Dell-Stewart, 767 tooling manager.

"We think we can revolutionize the 767 production system, which will provide better airplanes faster for our customers."
Elizabeth Lund, 767's vice president and general manager.

The team decided to hire a specialized moving company to jack up the entire apparatus, put it on hydraulic-powered dollies and drive it across the factory floor.

"This section tool move is a piece of a much larger plan," said Elizabeth Lund, 767 vice president and general manager. "We are in the process of moving and consolidating our entire final assembly production to a smaller bay and reducing our square footage by 40 percent."

Boeing tooling engineer Kelson Na

BOEING/BERNARD CHOI

Boeing tooling engineer Kelson Na (left) discusses the logistics behind moving a 200-ton tooling apparatus.

Moreover, the program is changing over to a new production system -- one based on Lean+ manufacturing or "just in time" production. The idea is to have parts arrive in the factory just when they're needed for production, reducing inventory and space.

The 737 and 777 programs made a similar transition a few years back. Today, parts are brought to the side of the airplane just when they're needed, dramatically reducing the number of days required to assemble a plane, while freeing up factory space.

The new 767 production line should all be in place by the end of this year, with final assembly starting in early 2011.

"We think we can revolutionize the 767 production system which will provide better airplanes faster for our customers," said Lund.