the first footlong wing skin panel for Boeing's new X jet moved slowly across a mammoth new factory building one recent morning, a small crew walked alongside, watching for any possibility of an expensive collision.
The "spotters" escorted the panel's bright-orange transport platform as it followed invisible tracks embedded in the concrete floor and slid with a tight
Boeings bredband snart aven till sjoss into the big cylindrical autoclave where the part would bake to hardness.
Until the automated system for moving these big wing parts is proved, "we do have four people watching it," said Darrell Chic, acting director of X wing fabrication. The X Composite Wing Center in the Seattle-area city of Everett, Boeing's latest venture in advanced manufacturing, marks a significant step toward a future in which much of an aircraft factory's work is done by automated machines and robots.
Once the wing skin was inside the giant pressurized oven, the lone operator at a computer station pushed a button. Lights flashed, a klaxon sounded. Slowly, a ton, foot-wide circular door slid into place and locked to form an airtight seal for the seven-hour baking cycle. Eric Lindblad, the newly appointed head of the X program, said having machines load the wing parts autonomously is safer and more precise.
There isn't room for error inside the oven: When the long stiffening rods called stringers are baked in the autoclave, they'll go in six at a time with just 3 inches of clearance between them.
In Frederickson, robots drill 80 percent of the holes in the and tails fabricated there. In Auburn, robots drill the engine heat shields for the and jets, and will do the same for the MAX.
Another robot uses lasers to clean the dies used to shape the heat shields. In its most productive factory, the final-assembly plant in Renton, Boeing has replaced the traditional multistory fixtures used to hold wings in
Boeings bredband snart aven till sjoss during assembly with smaller, flexible, increasingly automated equipment as it ramps up toward an unprecedented output of 52 planes per month by Introducing new automation is a challenge: In another new building in Everett, Boeing is struggling to smooth out the kinks in a robotic system for assembling the 's metal fuselage.
Still, a new generation of airplanes like the and X built with carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic composite structures have triggered a transformative shift taking automation to a new level. Fabricating complete fuselage barrels or huge wings out of this material is simply not possible by hand.
Only robots can lay up the strips of carbon fiber with enough speed and precision. Mark Summers, head of technology at the U. There's just fewer jobs in aerospace in the future. He foresees blue-collar machinist jobs increasingly supplanted by "more technologically focused" positions operating the machines. However wary machinists may be of what the new technology means for the future, Pete Goldsmith, who led automation-technology projects at Seattle-area companies Electroimpact and Nova-Tech, and now works for a third, MTorres America, said he got "a universally positive reaction" from mechanics at both Airbus and Boeing when he installed equipment to do repetitive riveting.
Gary Laws, a Boeing mechanic for more than two decades who operates computer-controlled machines assembling wings in Renton, said automation makes his job much easier. Today, the current 's metal wing parts are made largely by machinists in Auburn and Frederickson, then assembled into a wing by machinists in Everett.
Though Boeing doesn't provide a detailed breakdown of employment figures, this work certainly provides hundreds Boeings bredband snart aven till sjoss jobs.
Lindblad said that after a production ramp-up that will take a few years, the new wing center will, at peak, employ somewhere between and people.
The first production X parts that
Boeings bredband snart aven till sjoss fly on an airplane won't be made before April. Until then, workers in the wing center are making test parts, used to certify and fine-tune the new manufacturing process.
With wing skin No. White lab coats are required in this "clean room" environment, where an overhead robot like a giant tape dispenser zips back and forth along a footlong mold, building up the skin panel layer by layer.
As the robottraverses the part at various angles, it lays down plies of epoxy resin-infused carbon fiber in about separately programmed runs. Between setup, inspections and the robot work, completing a wing skin this way takes six shifts over three days. The goal is to have just two people operating the cell, Boeing said, with possibly another worker floating between it and an adjacent cell also making wing skins. Nearby, similar big Electroimpact machines are making the first X spars - the long, U-shaped, single-piece beams to which the leading and trailing edges of each wing Again, just three people will operate a pair of these spar manufacturing cells, says Boeing.
The spars will then be inspected by robots that use an ultrasonic probe to check for invisible flaws in the material. An exception to the full automation is the way Boeing is producing four of the 43 stringers, the rods that stiffen each X wing. These four are partly made by hand because of their more complex shape.
A half-dozen workers - five of them women, who are often preferred by manufacturers for jobs that require meticulous handwork - stood on each side of a long, thin stringer tool, positioning 4-foot-long ribbons of uncured, textilelike carbon fiber. When they'd lain out each piece of fabric by hand, an overhead machine swung over and pressed down to secure it for curing. It's a mistake to think robots can do it all, said Ben Hempstead, chief of staff and lead mechanical engineer at aerospace-tooling designer Electroimpact.
After Boeings bredband snart aven till sjoss X skin panels, spars and stringers are fabricated in the wing center, Boeing will deliver them to the main Everett factory building where mechanics will first assemble the pieces into a basic wing box, then add the folding wingtip and the leading- and trailing-edge control surfaces.
Hempstead said Boeing asked Electroimpact to look at automating one specific wing process in Renton that's done today by about a dozen mechanics. And don't even think about robots doing intricate jobs like installing hydraulic tubes and electrical wiring in the crowded space of an airplane wheel well.
Boeings bredband snart aven till sjoss World War II, Boeing gave Washington state a thriving middle class, allowing blue-collar workers - some with only a high-school education - to live the American dream. As robots revolutionize the industry, the region has become a hotbed of leading aerospace-automation firms - including Electroimpact, Nova-Tech and MTorres America as well as Janicki Industries - that are hiring young engineers as fast as they can.
Inalmost 3, machinists in Renton produced 21 single-aisle s per month, according to employment data filed with the state. As robotic systems and the automated processing of carbon fiber proliferates, that gap is certain to widen. While Boeing employed more thanin Washington state in the late s, it seems unlikely those days are ever coming back.
Its payroll here is down to about 73, today. Yet that's still a big workforce, crucially important to the economy.
And well-paid manual jobs remain a vital thread in the social fabric of the state. At the industry discussion of automation in Farnborough, Craig Turnbull, director of engineering at Electroimpact U. Even in a highly robotized auto plant, he said, the car radio is installed by a mechanic. It's too difficult for a robot. And when it comes to hiring an operator for this new equipment, he suggested looking to machinists.
They are then becoming more of a quality-control person than actually pushing the drill through a hole. To prepare the next generation of factory workers for such jobs, the state is pushing STEM education science, technology, engineering and mathematics and providing community-college-level training for hands-on careers. Becoming a machine operator will probably require a two-year associate degree with course work on the basics of electromechanics.
John Janicki, president of Janicki Industries, sees the drive toward more automation speeding up, "driven by the need to get the price down. Though expensive to install, he said, robotic systems should allow plane makers to sell more jets over a production run that can last more than 20 years. His firm - currently employing about people in the state and expanding - still regularly hires local people straight out of high school and trains them to operate its sophisticated machines.
And he points to a big upside for the Pacific Northwest in having the X wing center: After investing so heavily, Boeing needs to use it to the fullest. It's not going anywhere," said Janicki. It'll build s, yes. But 50 years from now, they'll still be building something in that plant.
Airbus wing plant is a model of robotic technology. Like a cartoon space alien with a dome-like skull, an Airbus Beluga transport plane arriving from Madrid drops from the sky above this village miles northwest of London and taxis to a stop with its front end tucked inside Boeing has begun installing heavy equipment and robotic machines inside its gigantic new X composite wing center in this "Boeings bredband snart aven till sjoss" city, and the first engineers have moved into offices that overlook production.
Inside a new building just west of Paine Field in this Seattle-area city, a team of young engineers recently gave outsiders the first glimpse at a technological advance critical to the future of airplane making in the Puget Every bit of weight on an aircraft increases the fuel, emissions and money required to put it in the air. NASA and Boeing have been working together to design a longer, thinner and lighter wing — so different from typical That holiday trip over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house could turn into nice little gift for automakers as they increasingly collect oodles and oodles of data about the driver.
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Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Airbus wing plant is a model of robotic technology September 21, Like a cartoon space alien with a dome-like skull, an Airbus Beluga transport plane arriving from Madrid drops from the sky above this village miles northwest of and taxis to a stop with its front end tucked inside Connected cars accelerate down data-collection highway December 22, That holiday trip over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house could turn into nice little gift for automakers as they increasingly collect oodles and oodles of data about the driver.
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Business. Rep. Richard. Jackson (r) some of the machines. Welcome to the official corporate site for the world's largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense, space and.