Boeing 787 assembly metrics improving, Muilenburg says

Washington DC
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Boeing is still working to overcome assembly delays on the 787 mid-body join that surfaced two months ago, a top executive says on 10 March.

But key assembly metrics, including parts shortages and travelled work rates, are improving on the mid-body join assembly line for the 787 in North Charleston, South Carolina, says Boeing chief operating officer and senior vice-president Dennis Muilenburg.

“All of those are trending in the right direction,” says Muilenburg, addressing a JP Morgan conference, “so I think we have our arms wrapped well around that.”

At the same time, Boeing still has “some work to do” to resolve the mid-body join issue, he says.

The assembly problems surfaced after Boeing introduced a method of joining the mid-body sections of the fuselage together, he says.

The new process was introduced at the same time as Boeing ramped up the line to produce 10 aircraft a month and introduce the first 787-9, however. Boeing, in fact, tweaked the 787-9 to improve how the mid-body join area is assembled, he says.

But the change caused a disruption of the 787-9 assembly line.

“There was some interruption factor with that process improvement,” Muilenburg says.

Boeing added 300 staff members to the North Charleston plant to address the problem, Muilenburg says.

Keeping 787 production on track is essential for Boeing to recover from the nearly four-year delay to entry into service in late 2011.

The 787 programme’s deferred production value is expected to peak at $25 billion later this year, then begin declining as Boeing delivers more aircraft, Muilenburg says.