for installation. These jobs often use repetitive motions and processes that can result in high injury rates. And that makes those jobs ideal candidates for advanced manufacturing technology. “Our people come first, and we need to eliminate the repetitive tasks that can result in injuries,” said Mark Rubadue, Advanced Manufacturing leader for Fabrication. Advanced manufacturing technology can accomplish that and improve quality without job losses, he said. “We’re all trying to up our game, to be the best in the world at manufacturing.” Fabrication is fully embracing automation and other new tools to keep up with Boeing’s fast-paced production rates. The $5.5 billion business has nearly four dozen advanced manufacturing projects in various stages across its facilities. Those projects are focused on the October 2015 19 Employees are using advanced manufacturing tools to increase safety, quality—and competitiveness by Eric Fetters-Walp | Photos by Bob Ferguson This is another in a series about advanced manufacturing technology and the tools and processes designed to help employees make Commercial Airplanes products in a safer and more efficient way, with more consistent quality. Price Alley knows firsthand how taxing it is to drill holes in the composite materials used for the 787 and 777. It’s a task that requires both precision and strength. “When I first got here, I thought I was Superman and could do anything,” said Alley, a New Assembly mechanic at the Composites Manufacturing Center in Frederickson, Wash. He works on the airplanes’ empennage—the vertical fin and horizontal stabilizer that form the airplane’s tail assembly. But even the most skilled mechanics, he said, realize that avoiding ergonomic and repetitive-motion injuries gets more difficult after years of performing the manual drilling work. “The drilling, over time, can hurt your shoulders, your ligaments, your wrists—just all over your body. It creeps up on you, so you don’t always know you’re getting hurt until you’re hurt,” Alley said. But soon, 80 percent of the 4,000 holes required on each empennage unit will be drilled by robots. “What we’re trying to do is take the processes with the most ergonomic issues and literally take those out of their hands,” said Brittany Ballard, an equipment engineer who is leading the facility’s switch to robotic drilling. Boeing Fabrication, part of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, employs more than 16,000 people in the U.S., Canada and Australia for the in-house production of the thousands of parts used on the company’s commercial jetliners. Much of the work involves fashioning raw materials into complex pieces that go to final assembly lines Photo: Cammy Hell, metal structures technician, configures a single-flush drill end-effector on the 737 MAX robotic pulse line at the Boeing Fabrication site in Auburn, Wash.
Frontiers October 2015 Issue
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