NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — There are three places in the world that assemble twin-aisle jetliners: Everett; Toulouse, France; and North Charleston, South Carolina.
Boeing’s South Carolina workers had plenty of growing pains as they started putting together 787 Dreamliners. In the beginning, several had to be flown to Everett, where workers finished jobs left undone or fixed work improperly done.
Those are not significant issues any more. The aerospace giant’s North Charleston site is rolling out three of the advanced airplanes a month. On Tuesday, the top Boeing exec in South Carolina, Bev Wyse, handed American Airlines the 100th 787 Dreamliner delivered from there. It’s been more than six years since Boeing picked the East Coast city as the site for its second 787 final assembly line.
“The next 100 planes will happen in about half this time,” Wyse said during the delivery ceremony at the Boeing South Carolina Delivery Center.
The site’s roughly 7,500 workers have focused on improving quality and speed to ensure airlines get their airplanes on time, she said. About 3,500 workers are in production and maintenance.
Boeing South Carolina’s woes were exacerbated when the site increased the number of Dreamliners it makes and introduced a new, larger version of the popular jetliner.
The plant faces similar tasks again this year. It is preparing to raise its production rate from three to five 787s a month, and to start making the biggest version, the 787-10. It is also finishing a new painting facility with room for two airplanes. Currently, finished 787s have to be flown to Everett or to a supplier’s facility to be painted, and then flown back to North Charleston for delivery.
Boeing officials here are upbeat about smoothly achieving all three tasks. The site already has the people, processes and equipment in place for the rate increase and for starting 787-10 work, Wyse said.
The site has new automated machines — made by Mukilteo’s Electroimpact — that already have cut several days off how long it takes to make and assemble the last two sections of the plane’s fuselage. The completed sections are delivered to 787 final assembly lines in Washington and South Carolina.
Last year, Boeing closed a temporary assembly line in Everett, called the surge line, as South Carolina started turning out 787s at a faster rate.
The site has already tested sections of its fuselage production and final assembly lines for handling the 787-10 body. The plane is basically a stretched version of the 787-9, so adding it to the work flow should be far less complicated, Boeing officials say.
Boeing workers will start making the first fuselage sections of the 787-10 in October, said Michael Bunker, who oversees fabrication of the rear fuselage sections here.
The site will pick up its work tempo this summer.
“All the capital is in place, all the personnel are in place for the ramp-up,” he said.
That is a major change from just two years ago, when Boeing brought on legions of contractors to get South Carolina’s production up to speed. Even with the extra workers, the amount of unfinished — or “traveled” — work in North Charleston had a ripple effect, forcing mechanics and engineers in Everett to put in substantial overtime to pick up the slack.
Boeing likely will add some contractors again when production rate goes up again this summer, but this time, those extra workers will be on hand to make sure everything goes smoothly, Wyse said.