Running on time: 777X and its updated production system are on plan, with safety built in

Major milestones fast approaching for large, twin-engine airplane

June 12, 2017 in Our Commitment

Kyle Jennings, a 777 mechanic, operates a robot to complete automated drilling inside a 777 fuselage. This new process to build 777 fuselages is referred to as FAUB, or Fuselage Automated Upright Build.

Gail Hanusa

Despite major differences from its highly successful predecessor, progress on the 777X — Commercial Airplanes’ new large twin-engine airplane — and its revolutionary production system is on schedule and will be ready for fast-approaching development milestones, program leaders say.

“We have surpassed 70 percent completion on detailed design, and our production system is alive and well and producing production parts,” said Eric Lindblad, 777X vice president and general manager. “With delivery of the first 777X in 2020, we have positioned ourselves so that if our customers have a desire to take delivery a little early, we can support them.”

Both in the Composite Wing Center and in the main Everett factory, workplace improvements in preparation for the 777X are aimed at reducing injuries and ergonomic stress.

“Providing a safe working environment is the right thing to do for our employees and our business,” said Perry Moore, 777X Wings leader. “People perform better and managers can better manage their workload. Everyone wins.”

Examples of safety improvements are varied. One station has devices in place to support power hand tools so employees no longer have to use their own power to hoist and hold the tools. In the wing buildup area, transitioning to a horizontal build line will put more work in employees’ “strike zone” and make obsolete the upright build tools used to work on steeply slanted surfaces.

Jordan Northrup, a 777 mid-bodies structures mechanic lead, feels the difference in his shoulder. He now operates and maintains robots that do much of the repetitive drilling and driving work he used to do manually.

“It’s 100 percent different,” Northrup said. “I’m still worn out at the end of my shift, but I don’t wake up in pain in the morning after countersinking 300 holes.”

The 777X will be the largest two-engine jetliner in the world, carrying up to 425 passengers. It has received 340 orders and commitments from seven customers.

Production of some parts for the program’s static-test airplane has already begun in preparation for final assembly next year. The flight-test program will occur in 2019, followed by first delivery in 2020.

“We are building stringers like crazy,” Lindblad said in the Composite Wing Center, where major structures of the wing are fabricated.

In the main factory, the 777X initially will be built on in-work, low-rate initial production lines to ensure that today’s 777 line is not disrupted until production is later moved to the main line. Those main lines have dramatic new looks, with some work transitioning to prepare for the 777X.

Legacy “monument” tooling used to build wings in a vertical position is being replaced by a horizontal build line, based on successful implementation on the 737 program in Renton, Wash. Instead of cranes and scaffolding-like structures, computer-controlled automated guided vehicles will be used to position wings and fuselage sections for wing-to-body join.

“It gives us the flexibility to account for differences in size, sweep and dihedral [upward angle] of the 777 and 777X wing,” said Jason Clark, vice president of 777/777X Operations. “Our former methods were rigid and fixed and were all based on hardware. Now it is all about software and the flexibility it provides to us.”

By Dan Ivanis

An employee in the Composite Wing Center tests a prototype panel for a 777X wing after carbon-fiber tape is placed and before it is cured in the autoclave.

Gail Hanusa