RENTON – Boeing made it official Tuesday. Its 737 is hitting a new record - 38 airplanes a month will begin flowing down the production lines and out the doors at the same site where jet air travel began in the 1950s with the 707.
It begins over on the 737 wing line, where today, members of the Machinists union loaded the first spar, a long assembly set up in a special tool that rivets it together. It’s one of four spars that gives the wings strength. Around the spars other workers will built up the rest of the wings, then the wings will be joined onto the Wichita, Kansas-built fuselage as the airplane comes together and rolls down one of two major assembly lines and toward Lake Washington.
Boeing hit a record 35 airplanes a month in late 2011. It will top out at 42 a month a year and three weeks from now in early 2014.
“Now, I know we’ll go above 42,” said Beverly Wyse, Boeing’s V.P. and General Manager of the 737 program. “I just don’t’ know when.”
What the 737 program has done is achieved these record rates with a minimum of fuss. Back in the 1990s, rate increases became messy affairs full of delays. Airlines wanted their planes “now!” and Boeing tried to accommodate.
“Back in the 1990s, every three months we were going up, from one rate break through another rate break, and the system couldn’t come up with it,” said Wyse.
Boeing has changed the way it goes up in rate. Now it comes up, stabilizes for a year or more, before going up again. That stabilization is considered key, allowing not only Boeing to install whatever new machines it needs, but to get new workers on board and trained.
It also does the same thing for suppliers, who provide nearly half the parts that go into a new jet. Boeing and suppliers say both sides now work much closer together and planes get delivered on time.
How high could Boeing go, with 3,049 737’s of all models on order, including the new MAX version which will initially be built on a 3rd assembly line.
“Even today, we and our suppliers are thinking, what would it take? To take that next step in the future,” said Wyse.