So, we all know Boeing is hella late on getting the 787 up and going. We’ve all read about how each piece is made in a different corner of the world, shipped back to Everett, then assembled; then each plane is flight tested, and certified, and three years late.
And we all think, “Well I’m no genius, but that just screams delays left and right.”
We all think, “It’s a shame they didn’t do it domesically for reasons x, y, and z. Boeing’s learned the hard lessons of outsourcing for sure.”
But when you see this assembly plant… When you see how, despite being the largest building in the world, this place has got workstations, perpetually moving assembly lines, offices, cafes, AND not to mention big honking pieces of a bunch of airplanes (and airplanes themselves) all fit together like a well-oiled sardine can, you can’t help but understand where they were going with this.
Compared to all the other sections devoted to other models, the 787 line is immaculate. There are no random wings lined up without bodies, no skeletal midsections, no crazy moving workstations and system of cranes. There is no orderly chaos like in the other departments.
Five nearly-ready, painted planes are lined up nose to tail in a neat line that fits perfectly between two hangar doors. The back end has a huge hangar door where the Dreamlifter comes to drop off its precious cargo, and is where the the least put together plane is. The planes in the line are progressively more finished til the front end, where the most complete one rests, ready to exit out of the hangar door at the other end.
We visited over the weekend, so I expected it to be mostly quiet sans any real movement (which was the case for most of the factory - we even had the lights turned out on us at one point). But of course, the 787 section was alive like a Monday morning, everyone still hard at work, still making up for three years of lost time.
I wish I could have taken pictures of the factory, because as amazing as seeing the ingenuity that goes behind building a modern jetliner is, more amazing in this case was Boeing’s ingenuity in the process of manufacturing the modern jetliner. There’s a nearly Japanese aesthetic behind the (dare I say) interior design of the factory: Crammed-but-not-so spacing, with everything having just the right amount of space it needs. No more or less. Everything that goes into putting together these planes is so well-thought out without any seeming margin for error.
And as someone who’s toured a LOT of factories and manufacturing plants, and specializes in the nitty gritty (like, really, really nitty gritty) of motorcycle manufacturing, I was so effing blown away by Boeing’s Everett facility. It’s enough to want to take all the board members and managers of my company’s factory AND the heads of all the big name machine makers for a field trip on a damn Boeing from Japan to Washington, jump up and down and be like, “This is it! This is innovation in manufacturing - What have we as an industry even done lately?”
But since I’m a broke college student and can’t bankroll that kind of a stunt, you get this essay instead :)