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Boeing Frontiers
April 2004
Volume 02, Issue 11
Boeing Frontiers
Commercial Airplanes

Graceful exit

Employees focus on completing production of the 757


Graceful exitA chapter in aviation history will come to a close as Boeing employees complete production of the 757 in October. Major assembly of the last airplane is under way in Wichita, Kan., and Renton, Wash.

Yet even as this last airplane moves through production, teammates on the 757 Program are working diligently to improve efficiency. "There's a lot to be said about efficiently closing out the program," said Mike Zavada, 757 Phaseout manager. "The 757 contributed revenue to the company during its lifetime, and we can continue that to the end. The more effective we are at closing the program, the more resources and cash we can provide to new and existing programs."

The decision to phase out the jet was announced last fall when it became clear that the capabilities of the 737 and 7E7 would fulfill the market requirement for an airplane with the size and range of the 757.

For employees like Don Roy, the end of production is bittersweet. Roy has been a Final Assembly mechanic with the 757 program since the first airplane came down the production line in 1981. "I've gotten up every day for the past 20 years and worked on this airplane. When I heard the news about phasing out the airplane, I felt like I was losing a family member," Roy said.

But he notes with pride that the 757 will be around for quite a while because of the way it was designed and built. "We had a fantastic group of people that put this airplane together. It's one hell of an airplane," he added.

The sales history attests to Roy's claim. Fifty-five customers around the world have ordered 1,050 757s. Of the 35 100-plus-seat commercial jetliners introduced since the 1950s, only seven have achieved 1,000 or more sales.

When the first airplane rolled out of the factory Jan. 13, 1982, the 757, and the 767 which was developed at the same time, were considered the most technologically advanced airplanes ever built, providing what airlines needed most: fuel efficiency.

Designed to replace the 727, the 757 was conceived during the 1973 oil embargo and subsequent oil crisis when jet fuel prices increased six-fold in the United States. A new wing design and high-bypass-ratio engines helped to create one of the most fuel-efficient, clean and quiet airplanes—even by today's standards. The airplane consumes 43 percent less fuel per seat than the model it was designed to replace. The 757's ability to reach a higher cruise altitude more quickly than many other jetliners helped earn its reputation among pilots as the "hot rod of the skies."

The 757 also was the first to have been designed by using a computer-aided design program, and the first to use Kevlar composite materials. A state-of-the-art flight deck introduced the use of digital electronics, replacing older electromechanical instruments and enabling airlines to operate with a two-member crew rather than the standard three.

757 memorabilia sought
Boeing will celebrate the rich history and success of the 757 and is in the process of collecting artifacts from the airplane's 20-year history for a special temporary display. If you have 757 memorabilia you would like to contribute to the display, please send an e-mail to Boeing Archives at All items can be returned.

"We were also the first program to use the concept of standard selections and to convert to Commercial Airplanes' new computer-based business and design processes. We actually paved the way for the other programs," said John Hamilton, 757 Engineering manager.

That same pioneering spirit at the beginning of the program is evident at the end as employees focus on how to efficiently shut down production. Using lessons from phaseouts of the 707, 727 and the MD-series airplanes, a cross-functional team is determining how to tie up all the loose ends as the last airplane is built and delivered.

The team must consider, for instance, what to do with 148,000 Boeing-owned tools. Tools unique to 757 production, ranging from small hand tools to 50,000-pound tool jigs, will most likely be sold for scrap. But some capital equipment like computers and milling machines will be used in other parts of the company.

The biggest cost associated with a phaseout is inventory. Fortunately, during the last few years 757 employees made great strides in inventory reductions, cutting levels by 60 percent.

Soon after the phaseout decision was announced, purchasing agents began adjusting order quantities. It is expected that by November, about 75 percent of the inventory left over at the program's end can be transferred into spares inventory.

But program managers are giving the greatest attention and effort to 757 employees. As the last airplane moves through the production process, most employees will be redeployed to other programs once they complete their work.

However, redeployment activities will depend largely on the overall health of the industry and the production rates of other airplane programs, according to Marty Chamberlin, 757 superintendent.

"We're not holding everybody until the last day," he said. "We're making decisions based on knowing the schedule of the last airplane."

One would think that as the end draws near, the distraction of redeployment activities would cause production quality to suffer. But that hasn't been the case.

"Our employees know the cyclical nature of the business and our product life cycles," Chamberlin said. "They know the decision to phase out the airplane isn't personal, and they are committed to delivering the last one as if they were building a thousand more."

He pointed to a recently earned efficiency award to illustrate the tenacious spirit of 757 employees. Earlier this year, employees received the "Most Improved" Fred Mitchell Lean award, an annual company award which recognizes an organization's achievements in implementing Lean Manufacturing. The 757 Program improved its 2002 score of 2.15 to 2.45 last year.

"Everybody knew last year that the phaseout decision was going to be made sooner or later, but they didn't give up and stop improving processes," Chamberlin said. "And we will continue to focus on finishing this program strong and in a way that honors our customers and this wonderful airplane."


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