Skip to comments.Boeing Dreamliner 'coming to life' (Part 1 of 3)
Posted on 06/27/2006 12:39:17 PM PDT by Yo-Yo
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Boeing Dreamliner 'coming to life'
First large pieces to be assembled in Japan starting this week
NAGOYA, Japan -- For Boeing's Everett engineers working on the company's first all-new commercial jetliner in more than a decade, the dream begins here.
In this Japanese industrial city far from The Boeing Co.'s Puget Sound roots, in a factory built just for the 787 Dreamliner, Fuji Heavy Industries has completed the first large composite section that will go on the first 787 to fly next year.
Measuring 17.4 feet long by 19 feet wide, the composite structure is the lower skin of the center wing box, a critical section of the jet where the 787 wings will be attached. The wing box also serves as the center fuel tank.
Piece by monstrous piece, Boeing and its partners are building an airplane in an entirely new way that circles the globe.
As he looked at the one-piece structure two weeks ago for the first time, Boeing's Scott Strode, vice president of 787 development and production, reflected on the many long hours and hard work by thousands of men and women to turn the Dreamliner into a real airplane.
"It's coming to life," he said of the world's first jetliner that will have a composite airframe.
"There is a satisfaction that so much work has finally materialized. You are looking at two or three years of work."
Strode will return to the Fuji plant later this week when workers begin to put the center wing box together. It will mark the start of major assembly of the Dreamliner, a key program milestone. The 787 is supposed to fly for the first time next year, probably in August.
For Boeing, the 787 represents a new way of assembling airplanes.
Only final assembly will be done at its Everett plant. Most of the manufacturing work will take place around the world, at factories run not by Boeing but its partners. The only large part of the 787 airframe that Boeing will build is the vertical tail, which will be manufactured at the company's Fredrickson plant near Tacoma.
"When you look at what's going on around the world, we think this is probably the largest industrialization project being undertaken today," Strode said.
Some 3 million square feet of new factory space has been created globally for Boeing's new jet. A lot of that is here in Nagoya.
Boeing awarded Japanese industry a big chunk of the 787. Executives with the three Japanese companies involved in producing the Dreamliner unveiled their 787 factories to reporters for the first time during a Boeing-sponsored visit two weeks ago. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will manufacture the composite wings of the 787 -- the first time Boeing has ever outsourced its wing production. Kawasaki Heavy Industries will manufacture a section of the 787's forward fuselage, the main landing gear wheel well that connects to the Fuji wing box, and part of the wing trailing edge.
Each company has built new plants in Nagoya for the 787. But the manufacturing processes at each are similar. First, a computerized machine will lay down the carbon fiber composite material on a mold, or mandrel, in a clean room to prevent contamination. The mandrel will then be wrapped and moved into a huge oven, known as an autoclave, where it will be cured under pressure and temperature for up to 10 or more hours. Each 787 structure will be inspected for defects by a machine that sends sonic waves though the composite material.
Another machine will trim the composite section after it comes out of the autoclave and drill any holes needed for assembly.
The scale of this undertaking is mind-boggling. Once the 787 enters service in May 2008 with All Nippon Airways of Japan, Boeing is looking at building as many as 10 or more per month. Boeing has never produced more than 80 to 85 widebody planes a year, and is talking with its partners to determine maximum production rates. Executives with the three Japanese companies said they should be able to meet demand without having to expand their existing 787 plants, some of which are not yet finished.
Fuji built two plants in Nagoya for the 787. One plant, which occupies more than 1 million square feet, is for production of the composite wing box. The other new plant, about half as big, is for assembly work.
The biggest piece of equipment in the Fuji composite production plant is the autoclave -- about 23 feet wide by 23 feet long.
An electric-powered, automated transporter known as an AGV carries the mandrel with the composite skin of the wing box to various workstations around the factory. As it glides silently across the floor, the transporter plays a popular Japanese melody.
Fuji also makes the center wing box in Nagoya for another Boeing jet, the 777, which is delivered to Everett by ship. In the 777 plant, it's almost impossible to hear anything over the noise of the rivet guns, as workers fasten together pieces of aluminum.
The Fuji 787 composite plant is so quiet one can hear the music from the AGV throughout the factory.
Boeing is using composites for the Dreamliner because the plastic material is stronger than aluminum and lighter. The just-completed lower composite skin of the 787 center wing box weighs about 1,000 pounds. That's about 20 percent lighter than if it were made of aluminum, Fuji executives said.
A composite structure also will not corrode, which means less costly maintenance work for airlines.
The Fuji wing box, designated by Boeing as section 11, will be assembled and attached to the main landing gear well, or section 45, produced by Kawasaki. This work will be done in the new Fuji assembly plant.
Once finished, a barge will take the joined structure to Nagoya's new Centrair airport, built on a man-made island off the coast. There, the Fuji and Kawasaki structure will be loaded into a modified 747 known as the Large Cargo Freighter and flown to Charleston, S.C.
The forward fuselage section made by Kawasaki also will be barged to the airport and flown to Charleston on a Large Cargo Freighter. Kawasaki executives said the first forward fuselage barrel should be ready for delivery around the beginning of next year.
Fuji expects to deliver its first wing box around the same time.
Charleston is the fuselage assembly hub for the 787 program. In one of two new plants there, the Japanese structures will be integrated with two center fuselage sections made by Alenia in Italy. The entire structure will then be flown to Everett.
Boeing will use a fleet of at least three Large Cargo Freighters to transport the various 787 composite sections. The first freighter -- a 747 extensively modified to make it big enough to haul the pieces -- will begin test flights at Boeing Field later this summer or early fall.
Because so much of the 787 work will be done by computerized machines, few workers are needed in the Japanese plants.
The Kawasaki plant will have about 100 workers, though that will depend on the production rates. Fuji executives said they will require only about 150 workers at the company's two 787 plants. Mitsubishi did not disclose its work force, but the numbers would also be fairly small.
Mitsubishi built two plants for its share of the 787. One, for production of the composite wings, is 656 feet long, 558 feet wide and 98 feet high. It was completed in April. Part of the property was once used to make Mitsubishi cars. The site is also where Mitsubishi produced the famous Zero fighter plane of World War II.
The other new Mitsubishi plant, which will be finished in the third quarter of this year, is for assembly of the wings, including the fixed trailing edge made in Nagoya by Kawasaki.
One of the most impressive pieces of equipment at any of the Japanese plants is one of the huge mandrels that will be used for manufacturing the 787 wings. Two mandrels are needed for each wing, one for the lower wing skin and one for the upper wing skin. These wing skins will be one piece of composite material -- the largest such structures ever made.
During the recent tour of the Mitsubishi plant, executives showed off the just-finished mandrel that will be used for the lower skin of the right wing. Made of 64% iron and 36% nickel and weighing about 40 tons, it measures 102 feet long.
When manufacturing of the wing begins, the mandrel will be moved around the factory floor by the same kind of AGV used in the Fuji plant. It also plays music.
The wing skin will be cured in an autoclave that is 26 feet wide, 131 feet long and that weighs about 700 tons.
Once assembled, the wings will be barged to Nagoya's Centrair airport, a 30-mile trip of about four hours. There, the wings will be loaded onto one of the 747 freighters and flown directly to Boeing's Everett pant.
The first wings are scheduled to be delivered to Everett next spring, according to Mitsubishi executives. Final assembly of the first 787 will begin soon after that.
"We will succeed in making the world's first composite airplane in the spirit of working together," Takashi Fujimoto, Mitsubishi's 787 program manager, told reporters during the factory visit.
In newly built factories in Japan, Italy and South Carolina, production is about to begin on The Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner. Boeing recently took a dozen journalists on a tour of the global factories where the composite wings and fuselage of the Dreamliner will be manufactured.
Today: At factories in Japan, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner begins to take shape, representing a new way of building planes.
Wednesday: Europe is considered Airbus country. But on land that used to be a grove of olive trees in Italy, a new plant will soon be building large sections of Boeing's 787.
Thursday: In Charleston, S.C., the fuselage gets assembled before heading to Boeing's Everett plant.
The other day I was coming off a drop when my $4000 composite mountain bike cracked.
Never seen that happen with an aluminum one.
I hope this doesn't happen to Boeing.
And it broke down in Japan.
"Dreamliner"? Sounds like something from a 1930's car ad.
One fuselage built in four places in three different countries?
Doesn't sound good.
Sounds to me like the first couple of 787s made should be used to freight 787 parts.
This airplane looks as though it will kick Airbus square in the a$$ ! Good for Boeing, and good for us!
It may have been a defect. I have seen Aluminum frames crack under stress, mainly at the welds, which are a weakness in Aluminum frames. Composite is much stronger and lighter. I would take your bike to the shop and complain like hell, that really shouldn't have happened.
I was thinking the same thing, I hope the whole thing was designed strictly in metric so that everyone is on the same "screen" so to speak.
Honestly, the 747 is still doing that. If you've read news lately on sales the 747 still beats Airbus. At least the last news I have read.
What's up with the "fixed trailing edge" highlighted at a couple points in this piece? The trailing edge of the wing can't be fixed, can it? I've heard of spoilerons for roll control but I don't see how this airplane could land and take off at any kind of reasonable speed without flaps.
Boeing's HQ left Seattle partially over traffic congestion in the Puget Sound area (Renton to Everett).
Most every thing in the 787 will be flown to Everett, skipping I-5.
If you want on or off my aerospace ping list, please contact me by Freep mail.
Aluminum frames can crack.
I suspect that the plane's wings will be designed and manufactured to handle the stresses they will need to withstand, and will be routinely inspected to catch possible problems before the become dangerous problems.
Mountain bikes just don't have the same kind of critical design, manufacturing, and maintenance requirements. Even obscenely expensive mountain bikes.
Sorry to hear about your bike though. Is the manufacturer fixing it under warranty?
I was at the Boeing store in Seattle the other day and picked up some cool 787 magnets (I collect them).