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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Another hit for overseas suppliers on Boeing 787

Some engineers say returning work on the delayed 787 would ‘protect the Boeing reputation.’

By Alex Gary
A fire on a test flight for Boeing’s troubled 787 program in November involved an electrical panel designed and produced by Hamilton Sundstrand, and Boeing engineers pointed to the fire as an example of why the Chicago-based company should stop outsourcing design work for the airplane.

The 787 is nearly three years behind schedule, with many of the delays blamed on issues with parts from suppliers.

The Dreamliner isn’t just groundbreaking in its composite form; Boeing is using the airplane to do a new kind of aerospace manufacturing. Instead of designing and testing all of the parts itself, Boeing pushed much of that work to its suppliers. That makes Boeing, essentially, the final assembler of the airplane.

It’s a model similar to the auto industry. Chrysler’s plant in Belvidere has a separate company that does sequencing. It receives all of the various parts needed to assemble the Jeep Patriot, Jeep Compass and Dodge Caliber and sends it to the plant, where workers put the vehicles together.

The process cuts costs and, theoretically, should improve efficiency.

But in the case of the 787, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer quoted the president of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace as saying the outsourcing model has not worked.

“We’ve seen a few indications (Boeing) wants to re-emphasize engineering,” Tom McCarty told the newspaper. “SPEEA members have the ability and experience to turn things around and protect the Boeing reputation.”

The 787 is a key program for Boeing, and it is a major program for the Rock River Valley. Hamilton Sundstrand is the largest supplier for the 787 and built a $50 million testing lab for the airplane in Rockford. Hamilton Sundstrand declined to comment about the 787 program and the November fire.

McCarty, when contacted about his comments to the Seattle newspaper, said he was not questioning the work of Hamilton Sundstrand.

“There are a number of companies with decades of history of doing great work with Boeing, and Hamilton Sundstrand is one of them,” he said. Boeing engineers were more upset about design work that went to companies outside the United States — for example, it’s the first time that Boeing has outsourced its wing production to a Japanese company, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

“There are certain kinds of expertise we feel Boeing does best and should protect, and the wing is one of them,” McCarty said.

Of course, in today’s manufacturing, the world is very connected. The wing mold, which took three months to complete, was made by Ingersoll Machine Tools in Rockford for Mitsubishi.

Boeing isn’t likely to change the 787 program now that it has so much invested in it, said Snorri Gudmundsson, assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“It’s possible to make an argument that it’s better to have everything centralized,” he said. “That results in a product that is more expensive though. Free markets demand that companies look for the lowest bidder on a potential product.”

Reach Assistant Business Editor Alex Gary at or 815-987-1339.

Boeing 787: Parts from around world will be swiftly integrated
By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter


For 787 production, Boeing's three main Japanese partners are building new plants or expanding existing ones around the industrial city of Nagoya, two hours southwest of Tokyo by bullet train.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries builds the short fuselage section in front of the wing. It also supplies the fixed trailing edge of the wing and sends it to the Mitsubishi plant.

Fuji Heavy Industries builds the center wing box, the heavily reinforced structure in the lower half of the central fuselage that holds the wings and landing gear.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries builds the wings. Workers attach the fixed trailing edge of the wing, supplied by Kawasaki, and the fixed leading edge, supplied by the former Boeing plant in Tulsa, Okla. (now run by Spirit Aerosystems).

Boeing flies the fuselage barrel and center wing box from Japan to Charleston, S.C., in a special air-cargo freighter. It flies the wings to Everett.


In Foggia in southern Italy, Alenia builds the 64-foot-wide horizontal stabilizer. Boeing flies it to Everett.

In Grottaglie, Italy, Alenia builds the top of the central fuselage and the fuselage section behind the wings, to which it adds the aft cargo door from Saab of Sweden. Boeing flies the two fuselage sections to the Vought/Alenia integration plant in Charleston, S.C.


Though headquartered in France, Messier-Dowty will build the main landing gear and the nose landing gear at a plant in Gloucester, England. By 2009, Messier-Dowty plans to shift production to North America. Everett is a potential site.

The nose landing gear is flown to Wichita, the main landing gear to Everett.

Wichita and Tulsa

In June, Boeing completed the sale of its plant in Wichita and a smaller plant in Tulsa to Canadian investment firm Onex, which renamed the operation Spirit Aerosystems.

In Wichita, Spirit builds the nose and cockpit section of the jet. It attaches the nose landing gear, made by Messier-Dowty, and the forward cargo door, made by Saab. Boeing then flies the complete, 43-foot-long, forward section of the 787 to Everett.

Spirit also makes the pylons from which the engines hang. These go (likely by rail) to Everett.

Spirit's smaller unit in Tulsa builds the leading edges of the wing. The fixed leading edge is shipped to Mitsubishi in Japan; the movable leading edge goes by rail to Everett.

South Carolina and Texas

Headquartered in Dallas, Vought builds the rear fuselage in Charleston in two sections. It adds the aft passenger entry door, which arrives via ship from Latecoere in France, and joins the two sections together.

Boeing flies the completed aft fuselage to Everett. At a plant adjacent to the Vought factory, a Vought/Alenia joint venture assembles the midfuselage section of the aircraft. Workers join the Alenia and Kawasaki fuselage sections and the center wing box from Fuji, along with the wing to body fairing from Boeing Canada in Winnipeg and the forward passenger entry door, which arrives via ship from Latecoere in France. Alenia/Vought installs all ducting and insulation. Boeing flies the completed midfuselage section to Everett.

Boeing — non-U.S.

Boeing's Hawker de Havilland unit in Australia builds both the movable trailing edge and the inboard flaps of the wings. Both are sent to Everett.

At its major composites fabrication center in Winnipeg, Boeing Canada fabricates the wing-to-body fairing from panels made in Hafei, China. This goes by rail to the Vought/Alenia midfuselage integration site in Charleston.

Winnipeg also supplies the main landing-gear doors and the aft pylon fairing, which go to Everett, likely by rail.

The Boeing Design Center in Moscow, Russia, employs 140 engineers offering 787 design support, principally to Wichita and Everett. An additional 30 engineers are helping with the modifications that will turn three used 747s into large cargo freighters.

Boeing — Puget Sound

Worldwide Boeing employment directly on the 787 at year-end is projected to be about 4,000 engineers and 100 other staff. All but 300 will be in the Puget Sound area.

Boeing's Frederickson, Pierce County, plant builds the vertical fin, the only piece of the airframe made in the Puget Sound region, and integrates the rudder from Chengdu in China and the leading edge of the fin from Shenyang in China. The 30-foot-tall fins travel by road to Everett.

The 787 comes together at Boeing's Everett plant in the following stages:

1. Tail and aft fuselage integration feeder line.

Boeing Machinists join the horizontal stabilizer from Italy and the tail cone from Korea to the aft fuselage from Vought in Charleston, S.C.

2. Wing integration feeder line.

Boeing Machinists join the wings from Mitsubishi; the wings tips from Korea; the movable trailing edge from Boeing's Australian unit; the engine pylons and the movable leading edge from Spirit in Wichita and Tulsa; and the rear pylon fairings from Boeing Canada.

3. Final assembly.

Boeing Machinists join the forward fuselage from Spirit in Wichita and the big central fuselage section and flight deck from Alenia/Vought in Charleston and add the main landing gear from Messier-Dowty and landing gear doors from Boeing Canada.

They join the completed wings to the fuselage.

The tail and aft fuselage are attached to the airplane and the vertical fin from Frederickson is joined to the rest of the tail.

The engines are hung on the wing pylons.

The interior seats and finishings are installed.

4. Paint, fuel, test and deliver.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or
Your feedback is always welcome.
Thank you!

787 makes emergency landing after smoke reported in cabin

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