Spirit Aerosystems CEO says Wichita factory can support 60 737s per month

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Spirit AeroSystems' chief executive says the company can build up to 60 Boeing 737 fuselages per month despite appearing to have already maximised available floor space at its World War II-era factory in Wichita, Kansas.

"There's not empty space in the factory," Spirit AeroSystems' CEO Jeff Turner says. "But there's opportunities. Kansas is a big place with lots of land."

Boeing's monthly output of 737 rose from 31.5 to 35 per month earlier this year and is increasing again in the fourth quarter to 38 per month. By 2014, the production rate is scheduled to increase again to 42 per month.

Boeing has not committed to further production rate growth, but there are signs that the rate can continue growing. For instance, Boeing sized its re-tooled 737 wing facility to support production of about 60 shipsets per month.

But adding capacity for wing production means nothing if Spirit AeroSystems is unable to deliver more fuselages.

The company's Wichita factory, called Plant 2, was originally built to produce 40 B-29s per day during World War II, yet will be strained to build more than 40 737s fuselages per month, along with major sections for the 747, 767 and 777.

Inside the factory, workers attach fuselage skins to the frames of the 737's five structural sections, which are each separately fastened by four massive Broetje automated drilling machines. The sections are then joined together on seven integration stations that are already at peak capacity.

To support the move to 42 737s per month, Spirit AeroSystems has already started building an eighth integration line. In the absence of empty floor space, Spirit AeroSystems condensed production operations on 767 fuselages to make room for the eight integration station for the 737 airframe.

"If everything were linear and we're facilitised with eight integration lines for 42 a month and we need to go to 60, which has been talked [about], then we need enough integration tools for 18 more a month," Turner says. "But everything is not linear, thank goodness. It has a curve that a little bit of constraint-relieving tools and equipment lets you get substantially higher production rates."

Turner also notes, with reservations, that another option to increase capacity is to build a new factory in a different location - a so-called "green field" site.

"You can imagine scenarios to grow to rates that have been contemplated - everything from green-fielding somewhere else, which is not necessarily the best solution at all, to adding on, again, contstraint-relieving floor space and capital and so on," he says.