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Boeing highlights UK investment as Sheffield plant opens

As Boeing officially opens its first production facility in the UK, the airframer has defended its investment into the country relative to the multi-billion dollar defence contracts it has received.

London has already committed to buy 50 AH-64E Apache helicopters as well as P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, and has recently indicated interest in both the E-7 Wedgetail and additional CH-47 Chinook rotorcraft.

Boeing has set up a new manufacturing facility in Sheffield, in the north of England, which will supply spur gears, shafts and housings for wing trailing edge actuators for the 737 and 767 programmes.

It is the company's first manufacturing site in Europe, representing an investment of over £40 million ($51.5 million), and will employ 52 people.

Speaking ahead of an opening event, Jenette Ramos, Boeing senior vice-president manufacturing, supply chain and operations, said the airframer had "many projects and operations in-country" which had to be viewed "in combination".

"We have been very supportive of the UK's prosperity agenda," she says, pointing to previous investments across its portfolio. "This adds a manufacturing presence."

She adds that the Sheffield operation is an "amazing investment in the development of people" allowing the UK to make "complex hardware" to feed Boeing's supply chain.

A total of 13 specific suppliers from the region around Sheffield have been "activated" to contribute to the programme, she says.

Manufacturing of components for the 767 has already commenced, with operations for the 737 due to begin "in the coming weeks". Full-rate production will be achieved by year-end.

Parts built in Sheffield are shipped to Boeing Fabrications' plant in Portland, Oregon for assembly, and will be installed on aircraft from 2019.

At the moment the actuators are outsourced, but Boeing is bringing the work in-house. Ramos denies the move is due to any issues with its existing supplier.

All supply chain decisions are driven by a need to "balance" what it builds with what it buys in, she says. "It's not about dissatisfaction, but making sure there's balance in Boeing as a company. We expect to have a healthier supply chain as a result of this investment."

Ramos says additional manufacturing opportunities for the site have been explored, but it is too early to reveal any details.

Boeing has been present in South Yorkshire since 2001 when the company, with the University of Sheffield, set up the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in nearby Rotherham.

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