Boeing Frontiers
November 2003
Volume 02, Issue 07
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Commercial Airplanes

Not just scraping by anymore

Everett paint shop lauds change in painting process

Not just scraping by anymoreWhile some may say art is sacred, the artistic application of an airplane's livery certainly isn't, as decorative painters always are looking for ways to improve their craft.

Painting an airplane has always been physically demanding work. Commercial airplane skin panels are covered with a temporary protective coating to protect the metal from damage or corrosion during the manufacturing and assembly processes. Paint shop employees use hand-sanders to clean all previously primed surfaces. Once that's complete, employees climb all over the aircraft to manually abrade the surface with Scotch-Brite pads to ensure the primer coat adheres to the metal.

"This step in the process is grueling," said Bill Dill, decorative paint manager, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Dill added that Boeing people who spend extended time abrading airplane surfaces may experience rotator cuff, elbow and carpal tunnel injuries, "or at the very least poor morale as employees face the task at hand."

So Boeing people at the paint shop in Everett, Wash., were hopeful when Boeing Materials Technology and Manufacturing Research and Development began collaborating on a new process to supplant hand-sanding the twin-aisle jets assembled at the Everett factory. Now, the Everett paint shop has seen improvements in process, as well as morale, from employees regularly using a chemical called CHEMIDIZE 727ND instead of sanding by hand.

The team sprays the airplane with CHEMIDIZE—an organic acid that's treated in accordance with proper chemical-handling rules—and allows it to sit as the chemical does its magic. They then rinse the jet, and it is ready for paint—with no sanding needed.

"Boeing conducted a three-year test of the product, where all models in one building were treated with the new process and the other buildings stayed with the old process," Dill said. "MR&D monitored our processes and monitored the jets in service to see if there were any paint adhesion problems. We didn't see an increase in claims from our customers, so this past April we began using CHEMIDIZE as our standard process."

While the new process does not result in time savings, because the jet requires additional masking and protection to keep the chemical from being sprayed in the wrong places, employees are glad not to have to spend extended time abrading airplane surfaces. Perhaps more importantly, there is reduced chance for repetitive-motion injuries.

Thanks in part to a consistent management style, greater attention to safety and the CHEMIDIZE process, lost workday cases have declined by 67 percent in the Everett paint shop since the new process was implemented. What's more, ergonomic injuries there have been reduced by 75 percent since 2001.

Paint shops in Seattle and Long Beach, Calif., do not use CHEMIDIZE. Because single-aisle airplanes on average need much less time for abrading than twin-aisle jets do, the risk of injury to employees is greatly reduced. Also, the chemical's dwelling period on a single-aisle jet might actually increase the overall time to paint the airplane.

"People who come through the Everett factory on a tour expect to see robotics at Boeing," Dill said. "We often hear how it surprises people when they see us doing work by hand. But really, the highest quality work is work you can get from people."

—Debby Arkell


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