Boeing South Carolina (BSC) established a sizable presence in South Carolina in 2010 and has been “building the dream” in the state for the past twelve years. The company established final assembly operations of the Dreamliner 787 wide-body jet airliner in North Charleston and established a driving, advanced manufacturing presence within the state.
On February 6, BSC provided a plant tour of their final assembly and aftbody production areas for the OpExChange, a manufacturing benchmarking group in South Carolina. Forty OpExChange members from twenty-six manufacturing companies across the state participated in the visit.
Frank Hatten, Education Relations Specialist for Boeing, hosted the visit. His presentation and interactive tour focused on the advanced manufacturing they established as well as workforce development in South Carolina. The meeting began in a large meeting room with a panoramic view of the entire final assembly operations, which spans 1.2 million square feet.
Mechanics in the Final Assembly facility join the segments of the 787 Dreamliner – including the forward fuselage, midbody and aftbody sections – attach the wings and complete all aspects of airplane assembly, including functional testing. Sophisticated robotic systems are used to traverse the circumference of the aircraft, performing drilling and fastening operations.
As part of their safety program, Boeing uses some impressive advanced protective equipment. Employees performing prolonged reaching activity or heavy lifting often wear an “exoskeleton” to improve ergonomics. This equipment helps reduce muscle fatigue and improve posture, resulting in increased employee safety and comfort.
The logistics of supplying the large component parts to BSC are equally impressive. A small fleet of four Dreamlifter cargo freightliners are used to transport parts from all over the world. This jet, a modified 747, has three times the capacity of a standard 747. It includes a unique hinged design which permits large components such as wings and fuselage sections to be loaded into the rear of the aircraft.
Advanced Composite Material
Frank shared that carbon fiber plays a significant role in the improved performance of the Boeing 787. “It all starts with this,” Frank stated as he held up a thin strip of carbon fiber. This composite material is stronger and lighter than aluminum used in traditional and competitive models. Reduced aircraft weight ultimately translates to improved fuel efficiencies, which the customers greatly appreciate. Approximately 50% of the airplane is carbon fiber, and the fuselage manufacturing process results in a reduction of the number of mechanical fasteners needed, further reducing weight.
The aftbody, or rear section of the fuselage is completely manufactured on the North Charleston campus. The barrel assembly process begins with spools of ¼ inch composite carbon fiber tape. This material is stored in a temperature controlled freezer until needed for production. Robotic technology is used to precisely wrap carbon strips around the entire barrel. A layer of electrical discharge cloth is applied, and the assembly is cured in one of two large autoclaves. After curing, automated processes and human skill combine to install structure. After some additional processing and systems installation, the completed aftbody section is ready to move to the final assembly area.
Boeing Impact on South Carolina
The Boeing selection of South Carolina for global 787 assembly operations was a significant economic driver for the state. Not only did this increase the recognition of South Carolina as an aerospace entity, but it also drove a financial boon to the state’s economy.
When final assembly production began in 2011, there were approximately one hundred Boeing suppliers from South Carolina. That number has blossomed, with many companies relocating to the state to better support Boeing.
Boeing South Carolina is committed to helping the local community. Since 2010, BSC invested more than $80 million in South Carolina non-profits. This is an integral part of their three pillars of giving:
- Our Future – Encouraging and providing resources for STEM (Science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education.
- Our Heroes – Supporting our armed forces personnel and veterans.
- Our Homes – Building strong communities; readiness to learn.
During the visit, Frank focused heavily on STEM education and the development of a workforce pipeline, beginning with students in the South Carolina school system. This pipeline benefits not only Boeing but also South Carolina as a whole. A skilled workforce will drive more companies to choose South Carolina for their advanced manufacturing operations. As part of their commitment to this, Boeing conducts STEM outreach to every one of the 46 counties in South Carolina. They are the only company in South Carolina to do this.
The Future Workforce
Boeing developed a unique “DreamLearners” program which offers the opportunity for South Carolina students in 5th grade and students in specialized Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs to tour BSC and learn about careers in STEM, advanced manufacturing, and aerospace. This program has reached more than 1 million students since 2012.
Frank congratulated South Carolina on programs being provided to build the technical capability of the workforce. The Workforce Scholarships for the Future program pays tuition and fees for students to receive college degrees. The ReadySC and Apprenticeship Carolina programs help develop the workforce and individual development for careers in manufacturing.
Boeing South Carolina is also very focused on utilizing local talent and collaborating with their teammates in their personal development. Frank shared one example of a young man that joined their organization from Goose Creek, SC. Although this young man had developed a mechanical expertise from repairing farm equipment on his grandfather’s farm, his high school counselor indicated that “college might not be right for him.” He then joined an apprenticeship training program through his local technical college. Through this apprenticeship, he began a job at Boeing and after four years had numerous patents to his name. He later took a new position with a Boeing facility in California where he now works as a subject matter expert.
Frank challenged OpExChange members to replicate the type of programs Boeing offers to help build the workforce pipeline. It does not have to be on the same scale as those from Boeing, but he encourages doing something with the local community. By educating both children and adults about the huge opportunities in advanced manufacturing, the entire South Carolina ecosystem will thrive.
As a leading global aerospace company, Boeing develops, manufactures, and services commercial airplanes, defense products and space systems for customers in more than 150 countries. As a top U.S. exporter, the company leverages the talents of a global supplier base to advance economic opportunity, sustainability, and community impact. Boeing’s diverse team is committed to innovating for the future, leading with sustainability, and cultivating a culture based on the company’s core values of safety, quality and integrity.
The OpExChange, sponsored by the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is a peer-to-peer network of manufacturers and distributors in South Carolina known for generating success for members through benchmarking and best practice sharing. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If your company is interested in participating in this collaborative effort to improve both the competitiveness of your operation and South Carolina, contact Mike Demos (Mike@OpExChange.com). More information and upcoming plant visits are available on the OpExChange website www.OpExChange.com.