Boeing Factory Tour

One of the top tourist attractions in the Seattle area is the Boeing factory tour.
IONA sells a lot of software to Boeing, and yesterday after introducing our new CEO, Peter Zotto, and providing a technology update on our new products and open source initiatives, Peter, Tony Frey, Dan Stein, Al Davies, and I were treated to a factory tour by one of the Boeing executives. I had heard about other IONA employees getting to go on this tour, and I had been jealous ever since. But not anymore 😉
Tens of thousands of Boeing employees use IONA software every day in the process of manufacturing commercial aircraft, and even though we were well aware of that fact it was still a real experience to see airplanes actually being assembled, to get a close look at the massive 777 engines, stand inside an empty 747 freighter, and sit in a 747 cockpit during power on testing.
IONA software is used to power the DCAC/MRM application. The project began in 1996 and started going into production in 1997 through 1999. According to the stats on the company’s website, as of July 2001 39,250 Boeing employees were using the system, and its purpose is to streamline the commercial aircraft manufacturing process.
With the downturn in business following 9/11 the numbers of manufacturing workers are down from their pre-9/11 peak, but the application is still used in the manufacturing process for every commercial aircraft currently in production.
Like our Western Region sales director Tony Frey said, it makes you proud to be American. It’s not just the unbelievable size, scale, and complexity of the job, but also the spirit, enthusiasm, and pride of the people who work there. There is a real “can do” attitude, which is apparent in the enthusiasm everyone has for the new 747-8 model and of course for the soon-to-be-in-production 787.
During the visit and the tour there was quite a bit of talk about the 787. They are already refitting the factory for it. It’s due to start the production cycle later this year and begin filling orders in 2007. This is the answer to the Airbus 380, or perhaps the challenge, since Boeing is taking an opposite view of what the airline industry, and by implication the traveling public, really wants. The choice is between a mega liner capable of carrying 555 people on two full decks and a smaller, efficient, and relatively inexpensive liner capable of taking 210-330 people point to point. The fact that the Airbus 380 requires some new airport infrastructure seems it may present a challenge to overcome (although the Airbus website says this will not be a major problem).
In any case this will be a very interesting drama to unfold over the next five to 10 years. The Airbus is already in its first flight, but Boeing is countering with the 747-8, which expands the upper deck the length of the plane (although it will, like the 787, not be in full service till 2008). According to the Boeing website it will carry 450 passengers in a typical three-class configuration.
The factory in Everett where they turn out the “twin aisle” airplanes is the largest enclosed space in the world: 86 acres. Looking out across the roof it had the appearance of a cityscape. Mount Rainer was visible in the distance past one end, and Mt Hood across the other. Employees came up to jog during lunch or after work. When it was cold they’d jog or walk in the tunnels in the basement, where they had at one time set up the charts and plans for building the first 747, since the enclosing part of the building hadnt been finished yet when the first 747s rolled off the line.
There were a lot of signs warning against the dangers of FOD – foreign object debris. Wrenches left inside wing assemblies, rags inside engines, debris on the runway that could get sucked into the powerful turbines and wreck a multi million dollar engine.
The science involved, the attention to detail, the engineering – really impressive. The GEMS machines that literally stitch together entire wing assemblies, automatically drilling, deburring, riveting, and polishing thousands of holes. The 777 wing laid out on the floor 170 feet long with supports measuring the precise halfinch of distance and height. The attention to sealing up the fuel tanks. The way in which parts are delivered using trains, special trucks, and container ships. The history of the company – the daring and risk taking and attention to every detail. It is a privilege and honor to work with these guys, and I hope the relationship continues for a long, long time.

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