May 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 1 
Commercial Airplanes

Tough tail feathers

State-of-the-art facility in Frederickson, Wash., converts ‘ burnt string and glue’ into advanced composite structures


Tough tail feathersEmployees at Structural Composites in Frederickson, Wash., like to call their sophisticated product “tough tail feathers.”

In 1992, Boeing opened the state-of-the-art facility to provide composites solutions for the Boeing 777 empennage, which is made up of the vertical fin and horizontal stabilizer. Now just over a decade later, Structural Composites Frederickson is getting ready to celebrate the milestone delivery of its 500th 777 empennage.

Part of the Fabrication Division for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Structural Composites Frederickson today is focusing its manufacturing excellence for primary and secondary composite wing-like structures on a new dream: the Boeing 7E7 Dreamliner.

Last December, employees celebrated as the 7E7 program selected Structural Composites Frederickson to serve as integrator of the airplane’s vertical tail. The role is new and exciting work.

The 7E7 program named Frederickson as a major structures partner and integrator because it is confident the business unit can deliver a vertical tail assembly that meets demanding targets for quality, cost and schedule.

Serving as an integrator means the Frederickson unit won’t build everything in the assembly. The strategic path to deliver best value as an integrator is through a global composites supply chain, which Structural Composites Frederickson will develop, align and manage.

And while the Frederickson team will design and build major components of the fin, it’s already working hard to draw upon the expertise of Boeing’s global supply base. For example, the business unit is lining up world-class composites engineering talent by working “virtually” with a global team. This summer, Structural Composites Frederickson plans to announce its decisions on key 7E7 supplier partners for the fin, including the rudder, a secondary structure.

Once suppliers are in place, the unit will move on to design, test, assemble and deliver a fully functional vertical tail integrated with systems such as hydraulics, electronic actuators, signal lights and wiring.

A second responsibility for Structural Composites Frederickson is to lead the development of advanced composites technology expertise through both the internal and external supply chain. Leadership in composites manufacturing is a high-leverage, critical capability to Boeing because the materials dramatically decrease airplane weight and increase operating efficiency for our airline customers.

Boeing fabricates many aerospace products using tough fiber-reinforced polymeric resin composite, or carbon fiber and epoxy. Employees often affectionately call the material “burnt string and glue,” belying its high-tech properties. Composite material has many benefits, including high strength-to-weight ratio, high resistance to fatigue, an absence of corrosive properties, and directional design flexibility that allows engineers to orient the strength of the tape or fabric in the direction of the load path. The fibers provide strength and stiffness while the resin provides stability and load transfer.

Over the next few years, Structural Composites Frederickson will continue to push the envelope by developing new Lean manufacturing technologies that add even greater value for its airplane program customers. The unit plans moving-line technology for the 7E7 fin that also can be applied to the 777 empennage. Going to a moving line will be no small task, given the special handling it takes when manufacturing exotic parts that reach up to 40 feet in length.

Equally important, the business unit plans to align its supply base with fewer partners and continuously improve quality and life-cycle support for all its customers.

Mick Norris, director of Structural Composites Frederickson, sums up the business unit’s mission: “This world-class team wants to be known for perfect delivery on every commitment.” Given a stellar 10-year-plus track record, one can almost write the tail’s tale ending now: Fin!

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