October 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 6 
Commercial Airplanes


Feeder lines help keep 777 moving line rolling


777 in productionThough perhaps slightly less orchestrated than a superior ballet performance, the feeder line on the 777 commercial airplane operates with much the same precision-all the right moves at just the right moment-as it delivers subassemblies to support production of the huge twinjet.

And that execution is key to achieving the vision of a Lean enterprise in Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Mary Dowell said. As 777 factory superintendent in Everett, Wash., she has a front-row seat to the show.

"One of our goals is to put the airplane together in big chunks," Dowell said about the future of airplane assembly. "We will have fewer parts in final assembly, so it becomes a matter of integrating and testing the large sections together."

The feeder line is one of the reasons for those fewer parts in final assembly, and it is one element of the Lean production system Boeing is progressively incorporating on its in-production airplanes.

The system includes nine steps to drive waste and cost out of production and assembly processes. Quality problems and waste become highly visible when movement is incorporated, allowing for timely corrections.

The first Boeing jetliner to use the moving line concept was the 717, built in Long Beach, Calif. Next were the 737 and 757, both produced in Renton, Wash. Applying Lean principles to airplanes built in Everett, Wash.-the 747, 767 and 777-is delivering results on all three programs, and the last two principles of Lean-the pulsing line and the moving line-are being applied to the 777. The new 7E7 Program will incorporate Lean as well.

Dowell said when all feeder lines on the 777 Program are in place by 2006, the program will benefit from reductions similar to those experienced on the 737 line. In one example, about 500 parts were pulled off the 737 line for assembly in feeder lines, resulting in only about 50 parts installed on the airplane as subassemblies.

Labor requirements will remain much the same even though the processes are changing, Dowell added. Main-line mechanics could work on feeder lines for systems installation or small subassemblies. In fact, using feeder lines may not reduce the total number of jobs performed, but it moves them off the main line and further back in the process so the major sections joined during final integration and test are as complete as possible and are received just in time for final installation.

Much feeder-line work can be done right next to the airplane on the shift before the subassembly is required, so the job can be delivered just when it is needed. Feeder lines force the waste out in a number of areas, including such simple operations as part preparation.

"Today, mechanics receive many parts in bubble wrap, cardboard or wood crates, which requires them to spend a lot of time unwrapping the parts," Dowell said. "But on the feeder line, someone else unwraps them and prepares the subassembly for the mechanics to install on the main line."

Locating the feeder line next to the airplane also encourages dialogue between the mechanics building the subassemblies and the mechanics installing them. Working together to make changes so the subassembly is built correctly reduces flow time and improves quality, which in turn reduces bottom-line costs to the airplane, the program and ultimately, the customer.

Dan Becker, vice president - 747/767/777 Programs at Commercial Airplanes, said the Lean effort is all about competitiveness.

"We are working together to become more efficient at everything we do across the value chain, from the first contact with the customer to delivery and support of the airplane," Becker said. "Removing waste from our processes improves our competitiveness and helps us sell and build more airplanes."

Dowell said the 777 Program is already benefiting from valuable lessons learned on the company's previous experience with moving lines: "One of the most significant things we've learned about the moving line is that it keeps you moving forward by driving urgency and keeps us always focused on cost improvement."



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