In December 2010, the company announced that it would be ramping up production of its popular 777-series wide-body jet from 5 airplanes a month to 7 per month in 2011, and again to an average of 8.3 a month in 2013. Earlier in the year, Boeing also said it would be boosting production of its 767 from about 1.5 per month to 2 per month by the middle of 2011.
To facilitate the increases, the 777 and 767 programs will hire more mechanics, engineers and support staff. However, the flexibility of its Lean system is allowing the process to be expanded without the need to build more factory space.
Boeing conducted a thorough analysis of the market and the supply chain before green-lighting the production ramp up, said Brian Baird, manager of the 777 program, in a statement on Boeing.com. “We looked at whether or not we have the capability and the capacity to do the rate increase without disrupting any other program, and whether or not the market demand exists,” said Baird. “In both cases, we have found out that is the case.”
Mechanic Mary Kennedy told Boeing.com that because her 777 team has spent the last few years implementing Lean and transitioning to a slowly moving, U-shaped production line (rather than a static line that required cranes to move completed sections), the crews have already begun increasing their pace.
“We’re getting so efficient at building these airplanes,” Kennedy said. “We know we have to get things done each shift so we can move onto the next airplane.”
The new vice president and general manager for the 767 program, Kim Pastega, said in the Air Transport Intelligence news service that Boeing is applying many of the same Lean techniques for the 767 that have already been in place for the 737 and 777 lines for more than a decade, including just-in-time parts delivery and moving production lines.
Boeing is in the process of moving its 767 production operation to a single bay at its Everett plant, resulting in a nearly 40 percent reduction in its footprint by early 2011. Final assembly will now take place at the back end of the factory, where the company will need to install a new, massive door to allow the completed wide-bodies to pass through.
By consolidating its 767 line, Boeing also will accommodate a temporary “surge line” for the troubled 787 program, which is nearly three years behind schedule. This extra 787 line was created to handle production of backlogged orders until Boeing’s second permanent line is up and running at its South Carolina facility.
The 767 assembly line redesign was planned as an effort to finalize Boeing’s bid for a long-awaited $35 billion fuel tanker contract with the U.S. Air Force. The two-plane-per-month goal would be in line with the tanker requirements for the Air Force, which needs 179 refueling planes to be produced at that rate. The Air Force is also considering a proposal from Boeing competitor Airbus for the tanker bid.
Pastera gave no further details on the nature of the Lean techniques for the 767 other than to say that the same Lean improvements that have been adopted for the 777 – including a continuously moving assembly line – resulted in a 24 percent reduction in production times. Should Boeing win the tanker bid, these line improvements will enable the manufacturer to ship completed 767s more quickly to its Wichita, Kan., USA, facility, she said, where crews will add the final touches to convert them into tankers.