Across Boeing, advanced technologies that once seemed futuristic are now just part of the flow. Every day, employees use augmented reality, robots, automated vehicles, 3-D printers and more. This photo essay shows how.
In Brisbane, Australia, employees develop augmented and virtual reality technologies by taking existing hardware and tailoring it to Boeing’s needs. Boeing is exploring augmented reality on factory floors, and the more immersive virtual reality in simulation and training. (Tim Reinhart photo)
Explore Photo Essay
The Composite Wing Center’s vast production space in Everett, Wash., offers plenty to marvel at:
• Automated guided vehicles glide across the floor in formation to carry large wing panels.
• Large robotic machines form parts of a 777X wing—stringers, spars, skins—with the help and watchful eyes of the site’s mechanics and engineers.
• Machines use robotics to inspect parts for flaws that can’t be easily found by humans.
Timothy Gallagher, 777X quality inspector, checks robotic “holders” that secure wing stringers in place while a machine sends ultrasonic signals to detect structural and quality flaws too small for human inspectors to see. (Bob Ferguson photo)
In the wing center, 30-foot-tall (9-meter) machines stand ready to build wing panels one layer at a time. The machines’ robotic heads move back and forth to deposit the carbon-fiber material that forms the skins, akin to a huge 3-D printer.
Other machines use a similar process to make spars, the structural spine inside the wing.
Malenie Chin (left) and Thuong Pham check layers of laminated tape that are used to form the 777X’s wing stringers. The automated machine behind them lays down the layers. (Bob Ferguson photo)
Engineers Drake Nailon (left) and Anthony Darr confer near a 777X wing panel rotation machine in the Everett, Wash., Composite Wing Center. (Bob Ferguson photo)
Mechanics Kollin Havens (left) and Logan Schimon inspect the robotic “head” of a machine that uses spools of carbon-fiber material to form composite wing skins for the 777X. (Bob Ferguson photo)
Everett is not the only site where advanced technology is helping improve quality, efficiency and safety.
• At the Fabrication facility in Auburn, Wash., robotic arms drill holes into heat shields for 737 MAX, 777 and 787 engines. A robotically controlled laser cleans molds for those heat shields.
• In nearby Frederickson, robots now drill the majority of holes in 777 and 787 tails built there.
• New automated machines in the Renton, Wash., 737 factory help fashion wing pieces and perform other tasks.
• In St. Louis, Boeing transformed a defense production line into a commercial composite center that uses robots to build the 777X rudder, elevator, movable trailing edge, fixed leading edge and folding wingtip.
Miso Orescanin, assembly mechanic, operates a Control Surface Automation robot for composite 777X wing surfaces in St. Louis. (Bob Ferguson photo)
Spreading their wings
Across the company, Boeing continues to explore technologies to improve its products and operations, spurring partnerships.
In Melbourne, Australia, employees use resin infusion, which involves a form of glue, to produce hundreds of parts for each 787 Dreamliner. Others team with robots to produce an aileron, the part that enables an airplane to pitch and roll.
At the Boeing Salt Lake site in Utah (shown), a Fabrication team assembles the 787 Dreamliner horizontal stabilizer and joins it together for fit before disassembling and shipping it to the production line in South Carolina.
(Bob Ferguson photo)
In Boeing Research & Technology Metals facilities, teams pursue metals solutions for dozens of products, from jetliners to spacecraft. Boeing’s production backlog is largely metal airplanes, and its services customers have a high demand for metal components. As the use of composites increases, engineers seek new ways to mesh these carbon-fiber materials with compatible metals such as titanium, but at a much lower cost.
Metals engineers also use technology to machine a large 3-D printed part that typically had to be built in stages by suppliers. Doing so removes time, cost and risk from the process and keeps the work in-house.
Engineer Justin L’Hote inspects a machine-finished titanium part in a metals lab in St. Louis. (Jason Barras photo)
All together now
In Ladson, S.C., Jason Kerestes, a Boeing Research & Technology advanced production engineer, interacts with cutting-edge autonomous systems—robots working side by side with humans, robots that enter dangerous environments, proprietary robots. He collaborates on a new style of robotic manipulator, programming that will tell a robot to push a nut in a certain direction and then determine the amount of torque needed.
“You have the opportunity to learn something new every day,” Kerestes said. “If you’re afraid of failing, you lose that opportunity. If you take these situations head-on, you not only become a better engineer or technician—Boeing becomes a better company.”
(Bob Ferguson photo)
Click images to view videos
How Boeing tests the wing spars of the 777X
Mixed reality holds real value for tanker technicians