Boeing's S.C. plant for 787 interiors is ergonomic, efficient
The North Charleston factory that builds interior fixtures for the Dreamliner has robots as well as ex-Marines and former boat builders.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Small robot trolleys trundle along a moving line. Guided by wires in the floor, moving in a loop, they carry the fixtures that hold luggage stowbins in place as they journey through two curing ovens.
Computer-controlled machines cut out delicate patterns in contoured sheets of honeycomb paper, fiber glass or carbon composites.
A worker swivels a large, complex interior fixture around with a touch of his hand. It's held in place by an intricate, ball-shaped magnetic holder.
Boeing's new plant here for fabricating 787 interiors is a wonder of ergonomic efficiency and automation.
"It's a future factory," said Lane Ballard, director of the facility that opened in December. "A great place to work."
Pamela Param, who spent eight years in the Marine Corps and has worked on the 787 program since 2006, agreed.
On the eve of South Carolina's big rollout Friday of the first 787 assembled here, she was efficiently and cheerfully loading contoured carbon-composite shapes into an oven for curing.
Other employees at work also were military vets. One was a former boat builder. Ballard said he recruits people from the military and also from industries where fit and finish is important, such as boat building and furniture making.
The interior of the 787 Dreamliner that rolled out in the final assembly plant east of here Friday was made in Boeing's interiors center in Everett. The second and third South Carolina Dreamliners likewise have interiors from Washington state.
But from No. 4 on, the 150 workers in this 300,000-square-foot plant will make the stowbins, dividing walls, closets, crew rests and flight-attendant video-control stations for all the 787 Dreamliners built in South Carolina.
And after the items fabricated here are trucked in big wooden crates 11 miles down the road to the Boeing South Carolina final assembly facility, these workers will install them on the plane.
Inside the plant, the work is divided into discrete cells, each with its own team focused on lean principles.
The tooling is light and flexible, allowing the workers to easily rearrange things and improve work flow to make it more efficient.
"These guys, they can manipulate and change it around without an Act of Congress to move infrastructure," Ballard said.
The reinforced concrete floor gleamed and the lighting made it seem like daylight indoors.
Outside, the South Carolina sun was hot. Inside, it was cool.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or email@example.com