May 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 1 
Commercial Airplanes

Still making miracles

Fabrication Division evolves to meet large-scale systems integration


STILL MAKING MIRACLESWhen you’re the biggest kid on the block, you get a lot of attention—both good and bad.

That’s the position the Fabrication Division finds itself in as the largest supplier to Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Boeing’s big kid, known as “Fab,” has significant leverage on business-plan fundamentals that relate to the company’s ability to run a healthy core business. Now nearing 40, Fab is facing midlife decisions about how to add value for Boeing in the future.

Though Fab’s sometimes known as “Auburn,” after the division’s headquarters city in south King County, Wash., it represents 14 manufacturing and assembly operations in the United States, Australia and Canada.

The division often is called upon to meet wide-ranging and emergent parts production needs, and it’s said the talent found at Fab enables Boeing to make nearly anything out of anything. To support final assembly, Fab simply commits to deliver parts whenever asked. If and when an external supplier fails to deliver, Fab answers the call.

So what’s changed? A lot.

In the late 1990s when Boeing, and Fab with it, started its Lean journey, Fab began shedding some of its obsolete and underused plants and equipment. While the division progressed well on its Lean path, nothing reshaped the way it did business as the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Initially, the Fab focus, like the rest of Commercial Airplanes, was to match market demand by reducing production. As the industry downturn grew more prolonged, it became an opportunity to transform Boeing Commercial Airplanes into a Lean machine. With little risk of delaying airplane deliveries, the business unit focused its energies on the core competency of large-scale systems integration.

In the Commercial Airplanes strategy, large-scale systems integration is defined as final assembly and integration of the fuselage, interiors and propulsion systems. Other production work is to be consolidated and aligned, with strategic partners across Boeing’s Lean global enterprise responsible for both design and build functions.

Does that vision create a bleak outlook for an internal parts manufacturer? “Not if we focus on where we can create best value for our customers,” said Mary Armstrong, vice president and general manager of Fab.


To support Boeing’s large-scale systems integration vision, Fab in 2003 announced a strategy to produce complex, critical and “best value” parts. To that end, the division’s parts production work is focusing on areas of excellence with specific manufacturing capabilities. The plan is to invest strategically in these areas so that plant, equipment and skills match up with the critical capabilities Boeing needs to support final assembly.

Sites with areas of excellence include:

•Auburn. This site’s focus is as an area of excellence for emergent manufacturing. In addition, Auburn will manufacture a multitude of complex specialty components, a task for which the site is uniquely qualified and offers the best value for Boeing, said site leader Paul Nuyen.

“We see Auburn being around for a long time, because the supply chain simply can’t deliver the same type of support to our airplane final assembly operations,” said Jim Morris, senior vice president of Supplier Management for Commercial Airplanes. “That doesn’t mean Auburn will look exactly as it does today. It will definitely be smaller and more Lean.”

In terms of production, the Auburn focus is on emergent parts requirements to support final assembly, returning “airplanes-on-ground” to service in the flying fleet, and covering requirements for out-of-stock spares and other parts suppliers cannot provide. It also will focus on tubes and ducts for aircraft systems, complex machined assemblies, and complex sheet metal parts.

•Frederickson, Wash. This site features two manufacturing areas of excellence for major wing structures, including aluminum stringers, skins and spars as well as composite horizontal and vertical stabilizers.

The Structural Composites unit offers a unique capability. Boeing is committed to being on the leading edge of composites technology, and Fab plans to maintain and grow these capabilities while adding production opportunities in Frederickson. The Structural Composite unit’s Lean focus and high-tech capabilities are key reasons the business unit was chosen as a major structures partner to integrate the vertical tail for the new 7E7 commercial airplane.

Also at Frederickson, the Machined Structures unit offers unique skin and spar capabilities, machining and milling long “skinny” parts in lengths and complexity no other manufacturer in the world can produce. “Boeing plans to maintain that capability for as long as we build metal wings for metal airplanes—and that’s going to be a long time to come,” said Mick Norris, Frederickson site leader.

To improve efficiency, Fab is consolidating its skin and spar equipment in Frederickson. More efficiencies are needed, however. “ We’re going to keep figuring out how to do things with fewer assets in fewer square feet. That way, we won’t have to grow our physical plants as we grow our strategic businesses,” Norris said.

•Portland, Ore. This location—technically in Gresham, Ore.—is another site of strategic growth in the complex machining of hard metals. The site performs multiaxis machining on hard metals to manufacture complex products such as landing gear beams, engine mounts, gearboxes, flap tracks, carriages, flap support mechanisms, and flight control systems.

•Everett, Wash. The Boeing Interiors Responsibility Center here is an area of excellence that recently earned the role as integrator for main cabin interiors on the 7E7. Elizabeth Lund, product center director, leads a team bent on being the best choice for both airline and Boeing program customers. The IRC designs, manufactures, assembles and integrates many production, aftermarket, and spares interior systems for Boeing jets.

Fab’s other operations are in Melbourne, Ark.; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Irving, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; Renton and Seattle, Wash.; the Canadian cities of Arnprior, Ontario, and Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. Like all Boeing businesses, these sites hold responsibility for their own future by focusing their work statement on best value, by getting more Lean, and by consolidating underused assets.


A focused Lean production plan means—at some point—Fab won’t have the capacity to spool up A-to-Z parts production or output as it has in the past. Will that be a problem?

Not if the rest of Fab’s plan works to help keep Boeing competitive—and the division is racing to see that it does. Fab’s first race is to transition the less complex work to external suppliers by the end of 2006, before the next airplane production upturn. Its second race is a long-distance run: Each business unit is teaming with Boeing Supply Management and Procurement to find ways to optimize total capacity, capability and quality across both the internal and external supply base.

Fab’s brain trust soon will be supplemented, thanks to the division’s “future skills plan.” Next October, the division will launch a lifelong learning package to help employees shoot for targeted jobs, including those Fab thinks it will need in the future.

Hot jobs in Fab’s production future include specialists in areas such as composites manufacturing, interiors installation, machining and quality assurance operations. Process skills in demand include employees with expertise in supply chain and project management, finance, planning, and other disciplines that help Boeing external suppliers assume production for fabrication and subassembly of less complex, less strategic parts.

So the big kid has grown up. As it nears age 40, Boeing Fabrication Division faces new roles, new technologies and exciting new products as it moves toward large-scale systems integration. Although it’s daunting going through big changes, transformation is nothing new for Fab. It’s a division that defines itself by its 40-year track record for transforming metal into miracles to meet customer needs.


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