As recently as last summer, Boeing described the surge line as a precautionary move and suggested that it may not be required. Now, with delays continuing to affect the production rate and only five 787-8s in service, the company sees the activation of the surge facility as vital to reaching its delivery targets for 2012.
“When we go to the 787-9 we’re rate protected if we want to run the -9s down one line and -8s on the other,” says Shanahan, adding that while the existing line rate is at 2.5 per month, the supply chain is “already performing at 3.5 per month.” Speaking at the Barclays Capital Industrial Select Conference in Miami, Shanahan says in terms of ramp-up and overall development “the pendulum has finally shifted from risk to opportunity.Beyond development, it’s been pretty exciting retiring the risk around the development on 747-8 and 787. Certification last year was a real watershed for us, and now there is a real focus on enter-into-service.”
The surge line replicates the existing 787 assembly line in the adjacent Building 40-26 and, together with the Charleston facility coming on stream this summer in South Carolina, will be part of a planned ramp-up to 10 airplanes per month by the end of 2013. The jump to 3.5 per month is expected “within a couple of units, and we’ll be ready to go there,” he adds.
Accelerating the rate hinges on receiving parts 100% complete from Wichita and Charleston, as well as clearing the backlog of aircraft yet to be completed at Everett. The large sub-assemblies that make up each 787 are now arriving “100% complete,” says Shanahan, who adds that “the cut-off of when we’ll be completing aircraft in the factory will be in the [line number] ‘60s,’ and we’re on plan to do that or maybe improve on that.”
Despite the recent shim issue, which he confirms will take between 10 days and two weeks per aircraft to complete in parallel with other completion tasks, Shanahan says the “No. 1 priority is to get to rate. We carved out a separate production system to focus on the already built aircraft, and those are in various stages of completion. The work remaining on the latest is finishing the interior and running functional tests. With the earlier aircraft we still have some secondary structure to complete, some rewiring to do; we have interiors to complete, and we still have to do some functional testing.”
Of the roughly 40 aircraft involved, Shanahan says the most recent off the line have 500-1,000 jobs remaining to complete, while the earlier units have 5,000-7,000 jobs. “It’s an order of magnitude difference,” he adds.
Detailing the shim issue, Shanahan says the gap between the fuselage skin and support structure in the aft fuselage occurred at the tapering end of a longeron 18 ft. long and 8 in. wide. “The shim is about the size of legal paper–roughly 17 x 8 in.–and is about two sheets of paper thick. When the shim is installed, “we have to jack [up] the aircraft and remove a fastener and it just takes time–there’s no complexity–it's just work and it's time we don’t have.”