SEATTLE, Washington — As part of Boeing’s plan to increase 737 production rates to 47 and beyond, and to prepare for the introduction of the MAX at gradually increasing rates, the company is introducing an automated wing assembly process that will reduce flow time by more than one-third.

Dubbed the panel assembly line (PAL), the system was developed by Mukilteo, Washinton-based automated manufacturing specialist Electroimpact, and will be installed in the Renton site where Boeing currently produces the wing.  “Construction is well under way and we are bringing in machines this year as we prove out the qualification of those,” said 737 Business Operations director Elizabeth Schryer. “This new process reduces flow, defects and the footprint.  It gives us the capacity to do other things and it gives us a better build process for our employees from a safety perspective as well as produces better quality,” she added. 

The introduction of the PAL process builds on the shift to the horizontal build line for the 737 wing, which came in 2012 as part of the longer term rate increase from 35 aircraft per month to the current 42 per month. The horizontal build-up system, which replaced the traditional system of drilling and fastening in static vertical jigs, also introduced automated machines made by Electroimpact and sped up the wing build lower skin assembly process by 35%. “This is another step in implementing a redesign of the wing line,” said 737 director of Factory Operations, Marty Chamberlin. 

Boeing says the automated process of fastening stringers to skin panels for in-spar layup will be twice as fast as the original process and is designed to cut factory flow time by 33%.  It also expects defects to be cut by around 60% and, almost as importantly for the space-constrained Renton site, will reduce the current wing manufacturing site footprint by 50%. The system uses lasers to precisely position drill heads over the curved surfaces of the wing.

Major foundations for the machine beds have been installed, with provision for about 70 per line. The redesigned system also includes a transition to a monorail system that will move panels from station in a pulsed process, rather than by the current overhead crane.  The PAL will be gradually phased in to the assembly process during 2015.