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Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2007, 12:01 a.m.

787 line up and running

Boeing workers begin final assembly on the first Dreamliner

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EVERETT - Forget the overhead crane that carries 30,000-pound airplane parts with ease.
Make way for MOATT, the Mother Of All Tools Tower.
It's an entirely new way of putting planes together.
Just as big, bulky cranes were essential to the production of previous airplane lines, MOATT is vital to building the Boeing Co.'s new 787 Dreamliner at the company's Everett factory.
In the same place where the company has built nearly 3,000 of its 747, 767 and 777 jets, Boeing kicked off the Dreamliner's final assembly on Monday.
"The 787 is the culmination of the lessons we've learned building previous planes," said Steve Westby, vice president of 787manufacturing and quality.
Among those lessons, Boeing learned to simplify final assembly of its all-new 787, made mostly of composite materials.
In building the jet, Boeing expanded the role of its global partners, who ship major pieces nearly completed to Everett.
Thus, the company eliminated the need for heavy tooling and made way for the mobile MOATT, a device that will help join together quickly several major 787 components - such as the tail and rear fuselage sections.
With assembly tools like MOATT, Boeing anticipates assembling one 787 every three days.
Even for a 20-year Boeing veteran like Don Bryant, that's an impressive feat.
Bryant and co-worker Brennan Dunlap have worked on the design of the 787's production line. Bryant likens their jobs to those of stage managers of a play, who ensure all the people and parts arrive at their stations on time and ready to work.
"It's not easy," Bryant said.
With the 787, "there's no similarity to the legacy programs," he said.
Still, Bryant said he's confident Boeing will roll the first Dreamliner out of its Everett factory on July 8 - or 7-8-07.
Scott Strode, vice president of 787 airplane definition and production, was equally confident in making the 787's schedule.
Strode says he's pleased with the ability of Boeing's partners to get up to speed on their respective roles. But he acknowledges that a few have experienced workmanship issues with the parts they've shipped.
Parts arrive from partner locations in Italy, South Carolina, Japan and Kansas on Boeing's fleet of modified 747 aircraft.
"What we worry about the most now is time," Strode said. "There's still a lot of things left to do in a short amount of time."
Several major structures arrived without wiring or other installation - a problem Boeing foresees being corrected.
The company had a contingency plan for keeping the 787 on track for its first delivery to Japan's All Nippon Airways next May that included having staff on hand to pick up the slack.
Getting the planes out on time, and in excellent working order, is critical to the line's success. So far, the Dreamliner has won 568 orders, roughly worth $84 billion at list prices.
When the company selected Everett as its final assembly site, it promised to hire between 800 and 1,200 new employees.
On Monday, Boeing officials stuck with that estimate for the 787, although the number of Boeing employees has risen more by more than 15,000 workers from the beginning of 2004 through April 2007.
The company employs almost 70,000 people in Washington state. Since May 2004, the company has hired or called back to work 9,118 Machinists in the Puget Sound region.
The majority of 787 production workers aren't 10- or 15-year Boeing Co. employees transferring from another aircraft line, Strode said.
The company made the decision to staff its new line with new people partly because the established plane lines already are running at a high rate.
"We didn't want to rob from those other lines," Strode said.
Rather, the "manufacturing technicians" working on the Dreamliner are mostly new Boeing employees who've landed their jobs through the Employee Resource Center in Everett.
By the end of 2007, Boeing estimates that 1,100 job applicants will be trained and evaluated for 787 employment this year.
"The training process ... has gone very well," Strode said.
In exchange for Boeing selecting Everett as its final assembly location, the state provided more than $3 billion in tax incentives and contributed up to $10 million to building the Employment Resource Center where future 787 employees train.
On Monday, Gov. Chris Gregoire seemed pleased with the state's end of the bargain and praised the company for its new plane.
"Innovation is the key to the future," Gregoire said. "Innovation is the key to success."
787 Dreamliner milestones
Monday: 787 factory opens and assembly begins in Everett.
July: The first fully assembled 787 will roll out on July 8.
August or September: The initial 787-8 will make its maiden flight.
May 2008: Boeing will deliver the first 787 to Japans All Nippon Airways.
Mid-2010: The first 787-3 will enter service.
Late 2010: The 787-10 will enter service.
Source: The Boeing Co.
Reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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