EVERETT — Work is almost finished on the massive building where the Boeing Co. plans to make the similarly massive wings for its new 777X jetliner. The sound of construction — a chattering grinder, a buzzing power drill, cooling fans for a heavy lifter — filled the nearly empty interior Thursday.
Even as workers put final touches on the building, a robotic machine laid down carbon-fiber tape over jigs, making practice parts while Boeing workers fine-tuned the industry-leading equipment. When the composite wing center — as the building is called — starts production next year, it will make the area a leader in composite-materials manufacturing, technology crucial to the future of making jetliners.
Boeing’s promise to bring the increasingly popular production process to metro Puget Sound was key to convincing Machinists union members to pass a concession-laden contract in 2014. The state also approved tax breaks worth an estimated $8.7 billion over 16 years.
The company broke ground on the composite wing center in October 2014, after tearing down several single-story office buildings from the 1960s.
Unlike other composite-material wings, such as on the 787 or the Airbus A350, the 777X wing spars and skin will be made as single pieces. That means fewer parts have to be joined, making them cheaper to produce and lighter.
After the carbon-fiber tape is laid down, the parts will be trimmed and then cooked in a 120-foot-long autoclave, currently the biggest in the world. There is room for two more giant autoclaves, but they likely won’t be added until around 2020, when the company plans to start making more 777Xs each month, said Eric Lindblad, vice president in charge of 777X wing integration.
“What comes into this building are thousands and thousands of feet of carbon-fiber material,” he said. “For each airplane, there are only eight parts that leave this building.”
Those pieces will be taken to Boeing’s main Everett factory, where the wings will actually be assembled. The 777X final assembly line also will be in the main factory, where Boeing currently assembles the 747, 767, 777 and 787.
The company will not say how many people it expects the 777X program to employ. However, according to site selection documents sent by Boeing to various states in late 2013, the 777X line is expected to have about 3,250 workers in 2018, peak in 2024 at 8,500 and reduce to about 7,250 by 2026. The wing production center will have more than 2,000 workers, according to the documents.