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Boeing begins careful launch of first robot assembly on Everett 777 line

Written by on November 20, 2015

Boeing is starting to implement robotic fastening of 777 fuselage panels, the beginnings of what will be a significant shift toward robotization of the upcoming 777X.

Since September, Boeing (NYSE: BA) workers have been drilling and fastening some fuselages using what the company calls the Fuselage Automated Upright Build system, or FAUB, Boeing spokeswoman Elizabeth Fischtziur confirmed Tuesday.

Mark Irby, KUKA Systems senior account manager, looks over a fastener robot. Robot arms… more

BUSINESS JOURNAL PHOTO | ANTHONY BOLANTE

“We began to use the new technology in production in late September on some fuselages,” she said. “Other fuselage sections continue to be built using traditional methods.”

Lower costs will mean lower prices, key as Boeing competes against rival Airbus. This could become even more important if Airbus does decide to build an even-larger version of the A350 widebody, which might compete more directly against Boeing’s planned 400-passenger 777-9.

The robots are doing their work in a 200,000-square-foot expansion to the primary assembly plant, on that building’s southeast corner. Boeing finished that structure this year, to house the KUKA robots that are drilling and fastening the fuselage sections. Each fuselage requires about 50,000 fasteners.

Once complete, those sections are being rolled through the plant to mesh into position on the 777 assembly line, replacing sections drilled and fastened in the more traditional hand-labor approach.

The careful part is Boeing’s multi-step approach to implementing the new robotic technology. The methodical approach is a tactic to avoid the production snarls that wounded the 787 Dreamliner. In that case Boeing introduced new airframe materials simultaneously with a new way of assembling them, and the combination proved too much to smoothly absorb.


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