Magazine article National Defense

Boeing Plant Buzzing despite F-22 Slowdown

Magazine article National Defense

Boeing Plant Buzzing despite F-22 Slowdown

Article excerpt

* SEATTLE -- In a facility that once built the wing for the B-2 stealth bomber, teams assemble the F-22 Raptor's wings and aft fuselage with tools that are constantly drilling, buzzing and sawing. Workers here know that the assembly line may be shutting down in three years.

"The things we're doing now, we're still proceeding with, independent of dollars and future airplanes," says Dave Pouliot, Boeing production operations director for F-22.

The plant was originally designed to build three F-22s per month for a total of 381 aircraft--the Air Force's target number in the late 1990s. Boeing had planned to construct the wings and fuselage on a moving assembly line. But as the numbers dropped down to the current buy of 183 aircraft, the factory is instead producing two aircraft a month by "pulsing" the parts along on casters to different workstations.

About 150 workers build the planes during one of three shifts, with the bulk of them on the first shift. During peak production of the plane last year, it took workers five days to complete each wing and a total of 10 days for the fuselage. Those cycles are slowing down, says Pouliot, because the number of aircraft being built per year has decreased to 20 from 24. The flow time for the fuselage is now about 12.5 days and about 6.5 days for the wings.

"That's a natural deceleration progression, because really what we want to do is match our production rate to our customer demand," says Pouliot.

The production team is in the thick of building the lot seven aircraft and plans to begin production on lot eight aircraft at the beginning of 2009, he says. …

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