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Boeing South Carolina – An American Success Story

Boeing began operations at what is today the Boeing South Carolina site in June 2008 when it acquired the minority share of Global Aeronautica, a supplier to the 787 Dreamliner program. By the end of 2009, it had acquired the entire operation as well as the adjacent Vought operations. The move consolidated two supplier facilities for the Dreamliner into a unified Boeing campus.

Boeing in South Carolina

In addition to acquiring the supplier sites, in October 2009 Boeing announced it would build a 787 Final Assembly facility at the North Charleston location to complement the Final Assembly operation in Everett, Wash. The new construction would include a massive 1.2 million square-foot (116,800 square meters) factory and delivery center. A decorative paint hangar was added in late 2016.

Final Assembly 787 Factory in Charleston SC K65305

An additional expansion began in 2012 when Boeing increased the size of both of the original buildings and added more support buildings to allow the site to achieve increased production rates. The site now includes nearly four million square feet of building space. Boeing has purchased rights for 884 acres of land in the North Charleston area, most of it undeveloped and being held for potential future growth opportunities.

Today approximately 7,000 teammates work at the site, which has grown well beyond its key role in the 787 production system. Boeing has placed significant additional work at the site as a result of the team’s success.

Boeing Research & Technology

Located at the North Campus of Boeing South Carolina in North Charleston, SC, the Boeing Research & Technology team is the center of company’s composite manufacturing development activities. Scientists, engineers and technicians have state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment that allow them to create the advancements needed to improve manufacturing techniques across the company. Key projects currently in development include robotics, an exoskeleton to help reduce muscular and skeletal stress on the men and women who build airplanes and new techniques to apply sophisticated liveries on complex airframes with ease.

Boeing South Carolina 787 Final Assembly

Information Technology

The Information Technology team at Boeing South Carolina provides support for the Boeing enterprise, not just the team in the state. They make sure the company’s complex networks are optimized and running smoothly, and that Boeing is ready for future developments that will strengthen its ability to gather and analyze information. The team is particularly focused on sophisticated data analytics, allowing Boeing to understand what its vast data sets from airplane performance information to manufacturing operations mean and how improvement efforts can be targeted for maximum impact.

Propulsion Systems

When Boeing made the decision to bring propulsion work that had traditionally been done by its suppliers inside the company, it looked to South Carolina to create the new capacity and skills. The team embraced the challenge and as soon as the 225,000-square-foot facility was ready, started designing and building nacelles for the 737 MAX program.

The team has rapidly increased rate as production of the 737 MAX has ramped up. Rates are expected to continue to increase over the next several years.

Most recently, the 777X program awarded the design for its nacelle to the Propulsion South Carolina team.

Interiors Responsibility Center

Initially, all 787 interior elements, including crew and attendant rest stations, ceiling panels, class dividers, stow bins, closets and partitions, were produced in the Puget Sound area near the other 787 production line in Everett, Wash. However, as rates increased, it became untenable to build all of those elements on the west coast and ship them to South Carolina. The natural decision was to create local capability and the Interiors Responsibility Center South Carolina was born.

Operating in small, entrepreneurial teams using a combination of robotics and human expertise, the team has continued to win more work and find new ways to be more efficient in creating the interior elements that help make the 787 flying experience special for passengers.

787 Operations

Boeing South Carolina is the only site in the world that contains the full cycle of Dreamliner production – from freezer to flight. Raw composite materials are stored in freezers until they are needed for production to keep them from expiring.

From the freezer, the materials are loaded on massive automatic fiber placement (AFP) machines in Aftbody Operations and wound onto mandrels or formed into stringers. The large barrels are then placed into an autoclave and baked under pressure to cure. The barrels are tested for structural integrity before installation of substructure and systems. Once finished, the aftbody segments are either shipped to Everett or transported to the South Carolina Final Assembly building.

In Midbody Operations, fuselage segments from Japan and Italy are joined and “stuffed,” the term used for installation of substructure such as spars, flooring, brackets and beams as well as the tubing, ducting and wiring for systems. Like the aftbody segments, these are then delivered to Final Assembly locations in Washington and South Carolina.

Mechanics in the Boeing South Carolina Final Assembly facility join the segments of the 787 Dreamliner, attach the wings and complete all finishing of the airplanes, including functional testing before rolling airplanes out to the new paint hangar. After getting a livery at the paint hangar, the airplane goes to the flight line where it is fueled and engines are run for the first time. Testing and finishing prepares the airplane for airline inspection prior to delivery.

Union-Free Environment

Teammates at Boeing South Carolina have steadfastly refused attempts to unionize, preferring a direct relationship with the company that allows them to be more flexible and innovative. Benefits of this environment include numerous programs that allow engineers and mechanics to work more closely with each other. Through one program, Employee Development and Growth Enhancement (EDGE), engineers are embedded with shop floor teams to work alongside them and see how their designs and work instructions are used. EDGE efforts are targeted in areas where operations are especially challenging or where flow times are particularly long. Because they can be hands on with operations, the engineers more quickly understand where they can make improvements. Conversely, another program embeds mechanics with engineers to provide shop floor know-how as new designs are created, allowing engineers to more carefully consider production realities.

Boeing South Carolina has the most inventions and patent disclosures per capita of any Boeing site, with more than 600 logged in 2016. Because mechanics are encouraged to be part of developing new approaches and new shop tools, they are often part of these invention teams.

Community Involvement

Being part of the South Carolina community is important to Boeing. The company has invested more than $37 million with local charitable organizations, with an emphasis on education arts and culture, health and human services, civic engagement and the environment.

The DreamLearners program is Boeing’s outreach program for middle and high schools, and more than 52,000 students have visited Boeing South Carolina. Boeing also provides speakers to schools that can’t make the trip to North Charleston, providing the same information and motivational presentations regarding science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) education. Through those efforts Boeing has engaged with nearly 305,000 additional students in South Carolina.

Teammates also donate locally, through the company’s Employees Community Fund. They have provided more than $1 million to local organizations.

A robust volunteer program run by the company has also served on more than 8,000 volunteer opportunities in South Carolina.