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787 special: In the frame

Boeing is co-ordinating its key suppliers, which have all developed new production facilities just for 787 parts, and gearing up for the start of final assembly

We’re starting to see the delivery of first parts into assembly, and Fuji Heavy Industries [FHI] started Section 11 on time and is making great progress,” says 787 vice-president aircraft development and production Scott Strode.

Japan, where the three main aerospace companies between them have 35% of the 787 structural work, naturally forms the early focus for Boeing’s attention during the critical build-up towards the start of final assembly. “Kawasaki [KHI] is less than a month away from delivering its first Section 45 [main landing gear wheel well] to FHI,” adds Strode.

The first combined Section 11/45 (lower wing centre-box/main landing-gear wheel-well) is due to be completed in December and is expected to be shipped to the Global Aeronautica fuselage integration site in Charleston, South Carolina in January 2007 along with the first Section 43 forward fuselage from KHI. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is gearing up to produce the first shipset of 30m- (100ft)-long composite wing boxes, with delivery of the initial units planned for April 2007.

“MHI is in the pre-production verification stage on spars, stringers and skins,” says Strode, who adds this is an essential preliminary to the go-ahead for the formal start of the build process. “KHI is also winding the first fuselage barrel as we speak, and other fuselage sections are just about to begin starting into assembly in South Carolina, Italy and Wichita.”

 
© Mark Wagner / Aviation-images.com 
With around 400 firm sales by mid-September, the 787 is the fastest selling airliner in Boeing's history

As with all the key suppliers, FHI has developed all-new facilities to produce its parts for the 787. The company’s new West Handa plant houses composite fabrication work for the 787, while assembly is performed in a newly erected 4,500m2 (48,000ft2) building in nearby Handa. The composite fabrication site, covering a floor area of around 9,000m2, houses a high-speed automated lay-up machine, water-jet trimming and drilling machine, non-destructive inspection (NDI) machines and sophisticated robotic automatic guided vehicles (AGV) that transport parts to and from the autoclave which, at 7 x 7m (22 x 22ft) in length and diameter, is one of the largest-diameter machines of its type in the world (for additional details see Flight International, 11-17 July).

KHI formally opened its new fuselage Section 43 manufacturing sites for the 787 in July and is conducting pre-production work on representative barrel sections, the main landing-gear wheel-well assembly, and the fixed trailing-edge, which is assembled from sections supplied by subcontractors throughout Asia. The first fixed trailing-edge assembly was completed by the end of July, while the initial landing gear structure is due for shipment to FHI by year-end. The large assembly site contains an 8 x 20m autoclave, a shear-tie-fastening machine and a panel fastening device for the fuselage.

Fabrication facilities

MHI has completed a similar site expansion, with several plants across Japan contributing to the 787 wing-box effort. Most of the work is undertaken at the Oye site where preparations are underway to make wing stringers longer than 22m. These will be fabricated and co-cured with skins made in the same facility, which is also responsible for the final assembly of the complete wingbox. Shorter stringers will be made at MHI’s Shimon Oseki site, while Shinmaywa is subcontracted to produce composite spars. Each wing consists of main composite spars, skins and up to 18 composite stringers. The structure also includes 37 aluminium ribs, the largest of which are fitted to the wing centre-box.

The 47,000m2 composite fabrication factory was completed in mid-April while a nearby assembly factory was completed in September. The composite manufacturing site incorporates an 8 x 40m autoclave to cure the 787’s long wing-box as well as the usual complement of NDI, water-jet and automated lay-up machines.

Construction of Alenia Aeronautica’s new Grottaglie assembly site near Taranto in southern Italy is now virtually complete as it gears up to produce the centre-aft fuselage Section 46 and mid-Section 44, which together make up around 60% of the fuselage. The first work is focused on Section 46 for the 787-8, which measures 10.06m long, increasing to 13m for the later -9 variant. Section 44, meanwhile, measures 8.5m for the baseline variant, with the first set of fuselage sections due to be delivered by LCF to Charleston in January 2007.

Measuring 400 x 175m and around 24m high, the Alenia site covers 70,000m2 and houses a 17 x 36m automated fibre-placement machine. It also houses an 8.5 x 19.5m autoclave, which is the largest in Europe, says Alenia. Work is now underway on a pre-production fuselage before assembly starts of the first production unit in the first quarter of 2007. Meanwhile, work is continuing outside to extend the main runway at Grottaglie to 3,000m. Work on this project is due for completion in December, with the first landing of the LCF expected in the middle of that month.

Paving work on a new taxiway access spur is also nearing completion at Charleston airport in South Carolina, where both Vought and its recently created Global Aeronautica joint venture with Alenia is sited. The new Vought site is ramping up to begin assembling the all-composite aft fuselage Sections 47/48. Measuring 7.3m, Section 47 will be produced along with the adjacent 4.3m-long Section 48 in a new 32,800m2 building. Some 6,500m2 of the site is dedicated to a composites manufacturing clean room, while the 9 x 23m autoclave is one of the world’s largest by volume. The site also includes Cincinnati Machine-supplied automatic fibre-placement machines, PAR Systems trim and drill machines and Brotje-supplied automatic riveters.

As with the other main 787 composite structure suppliers, Vought has selected an MTorres-built numerically controlled ultrasonic NDI machine to check for voids, porosity and delaminations. Work on the first pre-production verification articles began in June, with the first set of production fuselage sections due for completion in early 2007. The site will be used to join the first seven sets of fuselage sections, with final join work later transitioning to the adjacent Global Aeronautica site.

Pre-production units

The Global site is expected to be filled with the last tooling and capital equipment by December, although the first set of pre-production “dummy” fuselage units will be test-fitted together starting from October onwards. The first real mid-fuselage is due to be completed in the site early in the second quarter of 2007, and will comprise the 6.1m-long Section 43 from KHI and Section 11/45 from FHI as well as the Alenia-built Section 44/46. All will be put together in the new 32,500m2 assembly and integration building, which involved the pouring of more than 34,300m3 (1.21 million ft3) of concrete and the use of 5,380t of steel. Including workers in Dallas, Seattle and Texas, the Global Aeronautica workforce will reach 100 by year-end and around 400 as the rate increases.

“Global Aeronautica was formed to bid for this assembly activity that, in the past, was not performed by either of the two companies involved,” says Global board of managers chairman and Alenia North America chief operating officer Vincenzo Caiazzo. “Over the past few years, the concept of collaboration has completely changed. The 787 has dramatically changed the relationship in the supply chain. Today Boeing is changing itself into a large-scale systems integrator and the suppliers are expected to become vertical partners – capable of defining, producing and assembling complete systems to deliver to the final integrator in Everett.” ■

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