Boeing's Japanese Manufacturing Partners Are Busy Completing The Dreamliner 787

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries are keeping the 787 project on schedule for first flight in August.

NAGOYA, Japan (AP) - The factories of Boeing's Japanese partners are bustling with workers these days putting finishing touches on towering parts of aircraft to meet the surging demand for the 787 passenger jet.

Boeing Co.'s new fuel-efficient 787 is a big hit, having already collected 544 orders. It is scheduled to make its first flight in August and to enter commercial service next year.

At the plants of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries, shown to reporters Monday, the parts were being cooked in massive barrels called autoclaves, where heat and pressure were applied to shape the wing parts or fuselage, the body of the jet.

What makes the 787 unique is that such parts are made of carbon-fiber composites, which are lighter than the metal previously used for commercial aircraft, making the 787 more fuel-efficient and resistant to corrosion.

Boeing Vice President Robert Noble said the 787 project remains on schedule, as adjustments are made for the minor delays that have come up.

And the partnerships with the Japanese suppliers, which date back to previous planes, have helped Boeing greatly in investment, technology and manufacturing efficiency with the 787, he said.

''We're very pleased with where we are at the moment,'' he said during the tour. ''This is just the beginning of working in this way. I couldn't dream of Boeing taking on an airplane by itself again.''

By dividing up the responsibilities among the suppliers, they have been able to focus on each part in perfecting the production, Noble said.

The Japanese manufacturers have collaborated on the design and are contributing about 35 percent of the parts of the 787, including a main fuselage part and wing box, the most they have ever contributed to a Boeing plane ever, according to Boeing.

The 787 has greatly helped Boeing in its competition against rival Airbus SAS, which has run into costly production delays with its new offering the A380, the world's biggest passenger jet, scheduled for delivery later this year.

Once the composite parts are shaped, properly trimmed, holes carved for doors and windows in the fuselage, and grid-like parts placed on the wings, they are shipped on a barge from a nearby port to the airport.

The parts from Japan are flown to Boeing's facilities in Everett, Washington. Such parts for previous planes were sent by ship, taking weeks, but now the parts only require 10 hours to ship, Noble said.

Japanese company officials said they expected Boeing orders to keep growing, and they were increasing the number of employees and offering more training to be prepared to boost production.

Akira Taniguchi of Kawasaki Heavy said the plant can produce parts for about seven 787 jets a month, but may boost that capacity in the future.

The biggest challenge was to meet the quality demands of Boeing, and do it quickly, officials said.

''We're all geared up now in the final stage of production,'' said Takashi Fujimoto, overseeing the 787 program at Mitsubishi Heavy.


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