Working Smart

High-tech solutions are reshaping how Boeing builds the future — and how employees think about and approach their work.

From building the aircraft of the future, to improving the company’s supply chain, sites and services, employees are the core of Boeing’s innovation.

  • A NEW BLANKET
  • A NEW BLANKET

At the Boeing site in West Jordan, Utah, Fabrication specialist David Limon (left) and Kari Larkin, a manufacturing engineer, work with composite materials that form some of Boeing’s newest airplanes. They use a high-tech overhead “blanket” to remove air that can get trapped between the material’s layers.

  • SMART SUSCEPTOR
  • SMART SUSCEPTOR

Called a “smart susceptor” blanket, this same innovation helps engineers Scott Fisher (left) and John Henry examine composite layers before they’re heated and compressed. For a task that used to require the site’s autoclave, this blanket solution saves time and cost.

3D PRINTING

In El Segundo, California, engineer Patrick Pattamanuch cleans up a 3D-printed part for a new satellite. Across the company, Boeing employees are scaling up 3D printing – also known as additive manufacturing – to produce metal and polymer parts for spacecraft such as the CST-100 Starliner, satellites and airplanes as well as factory tools.

  • WIRELESS CARTS
  • WIRELESS CARTS

Kim Hong (shown) and other assembly technicians at subsidiary Spectrolab in Sylmar, California, use mobile computer carts, rather than paper manuals, as they wire huge solar panels for spacecraft. These wireless carts are not just tidier. They also help streamline communications with engineers, said technician Veronica Hoffman.

EXOSKELETONS

Employees who build commercial airplanes in North Charleston, South Carolina, are testing advanced exoskeletons — external wearable devices used to increase mechanical leverage, strength or speed. The wearable tech reduces strain and injury risk for employees on the line.

WEARABLE TECH

Materials Management specialist Marian Sargent

Materials Management specialist Marian Sargent works with “Jennifer” (also known as the Electronic Assisted Transaction system) in the 737 Fulfillment Center in Renton, Washington. The system uses a finger scanner, small wrist computer and headset to assist in quickly finding parts.

MOVING LINES

Boeing’s final assembly factories use moving production lines, a concept now employed to produce 737 MAX flight decks at Boeing Fabrication in Salt Lake City, Utah. The 777X flight-deck consoles produced here also use 3D-printed components to minimize the number of parts.

  • AUTOMATION
  • AUTOMATION

Automated tools in Frederickson, Washington, drill thousands of holes in composite empennage, or tail, units for the 777 and 787 and install stringers in 777 and 777X wing structures. The site’s mechanics also use optical laser templates to efficiently apply composite tape layers on airplane tails and stabilizers, an idea borrowed from the Fabrication site in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

  • SMART FACTORY
  • SMART FACTORY

Many teams across Boeing are using “smart factory” viewing tools that show productivity metrics on a visual representation of the factory floor, like this one in St. Louis.

ROBOTICS

Employees at Boeing Fabrication in Auburn, Washington, use robotic machines to clean tools and produce advanced heat shields for commercial airplanes.

At the heart of these advancements, large and small, are employees with innovative ideas, said Jared McKie, a 787 manufacturing manager in Everett, Washington.

We need to make sure people are an active part of this evolution — it’s really a revolution. It’s our people’s intelligence and drive that make all this possible.

Jared McKie787 manufacturing manager

Story by

Eric Fetters-Walp

Photos by

Paul Pinner, Mike Irvine, Joshua Drake, Eric Shindelbower, Marian Lockhart and David Merwin

Related Content

Modern family

Modern family

Across Boeing, advanced technologies that once seemed futuristic are now just part of the flow. Every day, employees use augmented reality, robots, automated vehicles, 3D printers and more.
Watch U.S. Fly

Stay up to date on Boeing’s role in space, and more, with Watch U.S. Fly.

Watch U.S. Fly is a grassroots community and newsletter focused on the issues most important to Boeing employees.