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Feature Story

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Boeing 777 moves to a quicker pace

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Boeing 777 at a glance

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Eric Olson

A brand new 777 is weighed inside Boeing's paint hangar in Everett, Wash. Weight is a sensitive issue not just for people, but for airplanes as well. On the Boeing 777 program, engineers are assigned to keep the airplane's weight in check.

Inside the diet for a leaner Boeing 777 (Video)

If you're conscious about your weight, you have more in common with a Boeing 777 than you think. Weight is a sensitive issue not just for people, but for airplanes too. Every new 777 that comes off Boeing's final-assembly line in Everett, Wash, must get on the scale before delivery.

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Eric Olson

Specially-designed scales are placed on the floor of Boeing's paint hangar in Everett, Wash. Here, a new 777 rolls onto the scale for a reading before being delivered.

"In the life of any airplane program, there are new regulatory requirements and customer requests," explains Boeing weight engineer Paul VanGinhoven. "Those requirements and requests lead to design changes that can add weight."

With the Boeing 777, even though it's already hailed as the industry leader for fuel efficiency, VanGinhoven and a team of weight watchers constantly track the airplane's design to ward off any pesky pounds (or kilograms). A lighter airplane uses less fuel, which translates into savings for airlines.

"If you let up you'll find that the changes creep up and the weight will start coming back in," says VanGinhoven.

"If you let up you'll find that the changes creep up and the weight will start coming back in." Paul VanGinhoven, Boeing weight engineer

The 777 family consists of five passenger models and a freighter model. The airplanes can seat from 301 to 368 passengers in a three-class configuration with a range capability of 5,240 nautical miles (9,700 km) to 9,395 nautical miles (17,395 km).

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Bernard choi

A Boeing design engineer inspects the structure of a new 777 on the production line. He and his colleagues are constantly on the lookout for ways to cut weight out of the design.

From the airplane's structure to the systems to the cabin, the engineers meet every week to discuss ways to take weight out of the design.

A good example of this, says engineer Victor Bonita, is the re-design of a speaker drive module that powers the cabin's audio system.

"The previous design only drove two speakers and this new design will drive four," explains Bonita. "By doing that, we can reduce the number of drive modules by almost 50 percent." This example saves about 40 pounds (18kg). Other examples include picking a new type of insulation to save 300 pounds (136kg).

"As a designer, it's the challenge of saying I can do better, I can improve it, I can challenge myself." Victor Bonita, Boeing design engineer

Each little change adds up. For example, on the 777-300ER, the team has taken more than 500 pounds (227kg) off the design in the past five years. VanGinhoven and his teammates are proud of such a big loss.

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Bernard choi

An update to the design of a speaker drive module, pictured here, cut 40lbs. (18 kg) from the 777's design. Weight engineers say it all adds up.

"As a designer, it's the challenge of saying I can do better, I can improve it, I can challenge myself," says Bonita. "And we can collaborate and put our minds together and push it to a new threshold of improvement."

"Obviously the lighter we keep the airplane the more of it we're going to sell to our customer because it delivers value to them."