Boeing starts demo to make room for 777X wing plant

EVERETT — Politicians and Boeing executives took sledgehammers to a single-story brick office building Wednesday to make way at the company’s Everett plant for the 777X wing fabrication center.

The new airplane program is expected to bring new technology and jobs to the area.

Boeing committed to Washington only after extracting big concessions from the state and members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

With that acrimonious episode in the past, Wednesday’s event was a choreographed celebration. Boeing staff handed out cookies and Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ played in the background. The VIPs included U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Gov. Jay Inslee, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick and Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson.

Before the VIPs took hammers to the wall, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner cautioned, “Be careful, you don’t know what’s going to come out when we knock down that wall. It could be a lot of rats.”

The building — 40-84 — is one of three slated for demolition to make room for the 1.3-million-square-foot 777X wing fabrication center, which Boeing calls the Composite Wing Center.

Boeing has leased offices in Bothell and Bellevue for workers displaced by the demolition.

Construction workers have already started levelling part of the site. The process is expected to take four months. During that time, a fleet of 90 dump trucks will be hauling material to and from the site around the clock, with an average of 70 trips each hour, according to Boeing. Construction of the wing building, which will be called building 40-58, is expected to be done by May 2016. The 777X production line is scheduled to begin in 2017.

The wing building will house three autoclaves to cure the new jetliner’s massive composite-material wings, each of which will be more than 110 feet long.

The first autoclave is sitting in sections near the control tower at nearby Paine Field, waiting to be assembled and welded together in the factory, according to the airport.

The 777X line will use new technologies and advanced manufacturing methods, creating a “new type of workforce,” said Jason Clark, Boeing’s vice-president of operations for the 777 and 777X programs.

That includes production automation, especially for putting together the fuselage. The company calls the new approach “fuselage automated upright build” or FAUB, as the sections will be assembled standing on end. It’s a unique way to assemble jetliner bodies that reduces the number of people needed. The work will be done at the Everett plant in another new building — 40-27 — which is already under construction.

KUKA Aerospace, a U.S. division of the Germany-based KUKA Systems Group, has been developing some of the robotic systems Boeing will use on its 777X line. Kuka Aerospace announced this week that it plans to open an office in Everett to support West Coast customers.

The customer support operation will be near Boeing’s Everett plant on Seaway Boulevard.

Boeing will look for other opportunities to automate work, Clark said.

The Chicago-based company has turned to automakers and other highly-automated industries to learn from their experiences, he said.

Boeing automates work to improve any of three things: worker safety, productivity and quality, Clark said.

Repetitive work is often a better fit for automation than a job requiring craftsmanship, he said.

“I honestly don’t think we’ll ever have a lights-out factory” with no shopfloor workers, Clark said.

The head of the Machinists union District 751 Jon Holden said the 777X offers new opportunities for the union’s members.

“We all want this program to be successful,” he said.

“Hopefully, we can start talking about training for composites,” he said.

Right now, though, morale is still struggling, Holden said.

Last January, Machinists narrowly approved a concession-laden contract that Boeing said would guarantee the 777X and its wings are made in Washington.

The vote split the state’s IAM members into camps, and pitted local leadership, which opposed the offer, against the union’s international headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

The International forced the vote in January, which many local Machinists leaders opposed. Holden was not in office at the time, but did not support the contract.

He also was not asked by IAM headquarters to speak at Wednesday’s event.

Instead, Ron Cohen, a Machinist for Boeing in Auburn, appeared on stage with the other VIPs. Cohen is also president of Local C, one of seven locals that make up District Lodge 751.

Conner said the “tough decisions” made by people to bring the 777X here ensures Boeing’s presence “for a long, long time.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454;; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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