W3C Valid XHTML 1.0
Boeing transforming Renton site as 737 production boost begins

Boeing starts to lift 737 production to 42 monthly Wednesday, but don’t expect a lot of new jobs.

The monthly increase from 38 to 42 of Boeing’s best-selling aircraft will add only “several hundred” more jobs to the Renton site, Beverly Wyse, vice president and general manager of the 737 program, said this week.

The first wing spars were to be loaded into production Feb. 5, for the first 737 at the 42-per-month rate. About 11,800 people work at the Renton site, according to a Boeing spokeswoman, so the increase is just over 2 percent.

But the production rate increase will increase pressure on the supply chain, and Wyse said her team is increasing its oversight to make sure that suppliers can keep up with the pace. “We have them come in and walk us through staffing, training plans,” she said during a morning briefing Feb. 4 with journalists in Renton. “If we see any instability there, we work closely with them, very intensively, to make sure they come back on plan.”

She added that this scrutiny is driving further down in the supply chain, into suppliers’ suppliers. “We’re stepping down and getting more focused on process, how do they manage sub-tiers,” she said.

Wyse expressed confidence in the 737 program, pointing out that the 3,680-plane backlog of the not-yet-airborne 737 Max aircraft and the current 737 “next generation” aircraft will keep the assembly lines running for seven years even without new orders.

“Even with this next generation, we’re continuing to see more demand than we have positions for, all the way out to 2020,” she said. “Is there a bubble? We’re certainly not seeing one in the single-aisle market; as far out as we can see, we see more demand than there is production capability.”

Here she was referring to the question of whether airlines are overordering, creating a bubble in the global aircraft order book, a topic that was the subject of one panel at the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance annual convention in Lynnwood this week.

Confidence in further growth is so strong at Renton that Wyse is leading the conversion of the site to lift production again, to 47 monthly in 2017, and possibly to 52 after that. To do this, Boeing continues to “lean out” the 737 line, which means removing waste that slows production.

In October, Boeing for the first time cut production time for each 737 to 10 days from 11, said Erik Nelson, deputy operations leader for the 737 program. This is less than half the time it took to assemble each Boeing 737 in 1999, before Boeing instituted moving lines on the 737 floor.

The task facing Wyse and her team is complicated by the fact that Boeing also is creating a third production line at the Renton site to start production of the 737 Max, while it’s simultaneously pushing the other two production lines to 42. To do this, workers are moving around critical production areas in a giant game of musical chairs, making room for the third production line.

This week, plastic covered recently poured concrete in one part of the largest assembly area, where wings once were prepared for installation but that will be transformed to a central area for preparing fuselages for the next production steps. Currently, three fuselages at once can be prepared, but that will be increased to nine simultaneously, said Nelson, suggesting that this would be sufficient even to get to more than 47 aircraft monthly.

Meanwhile, the company is moving out a thicket of parts storage and preparation areas, next to the current No. 1 production line, to create space for the new third production line, Nelson said. That clearing is to be done by the end of 2014, with concrete poured in time to start production of the re-engined 737 Max in 2015.

One thing that’s striking is that despite the pressure to increase rates, workers on the factory floor seem relaxed, and there are no visible signs of haste. Nelson said this is a result of improving rates by removing waste — the basic tenet of lean — rather than making people work faster.

“One of our goals is to have stability in the system,” he said. “We want to make sure people are deliberate in the work.”

Steve Wilhelm's picture
Status: Offline
Member Since: 9-24-2013
Post Count: 22