Integrating Innovation: Spirit AeroSystems’ New Boeing 767 Manufacturing Space Demonstrates Future-Factory Principles
As Spirit AeroSystems helps lead the way toward Industry 4.0 integrations in aerospace, evidence of smart factory innovations is clear inside the company’s newest manufacturing facility.
Spirit AeroSystems’ all-new 144,000-square-foot facility in Wichita, Kan., is built for assembly of the integrated forward fuselage and other components of the Boeing 767 cargo freighter and its military derivative, the KC-46A Pegasus. The facility incorporates existing best practices found throughout the company’s global footprint and offers new solutions to meet customer and industry challenges.
A tour of the 150 buildings on the 600-acre Wichita campus provides an impressive perspective on the scale and speed with which Spirit operates, and this new structure is no exception. The site offers an opportunity to view years of manufacturing progress coming together under one roof. “This facility will incorporate all stages of 767 fuselage assembly in one building, from subassemblies to major assemblies, integration, final prep work, and loading for delivery,” says Kami Power, Spirit AeroSystems Director of Boeing 747 and 767 Programs.
Working closely with Boeing, Power says Spirit examined every part of the manufacturing process for opportunities to bring greater efficiency. “We looked at everything we’ve done, everything Boeing has done, and jointly identified the things we could do to make improvements in the process.”
The result is a factory setting in which automation, AI, advanced tooling, and digital technology come together for the most streamlined metallic assembly work from Spirit to date.
Advanced, Customized Tools
Bringing new tools to an existing program offers ways to accelerate production while ensuring the highest quality. New tooling on the 767 includes an improved aircraft assembly jig for joining the forward fuselage, equipped with automated positioners and lasers for alignment. The large skin-panel assemblies are brought together, each adjusting independently to within 0.001 inches.
Future Factory App
While the level of collaboration with Boeing has always been high, Spirit AeroSystems delved deeper to create a digital factory app from Deloitte, documenting every part of the 767 forward fuselage assembly process and transforming it into an interactive 360-degree view of the entire facility and process. Blueprints and drawings that once only lived in a 2D world are now brought to life through this digital transformation. “We can monitor progress on a large scale, or zoom in to see specific functions,” Power says. “We can also use the app to visualize factory synchronization, a key requirement for the rapid-build system.”
In examining all details, Spirit also saw the opportunity to introduce improvements in the way work instructions and parts are delivered to individual mechanics, and how to continue to improve safety and ergonomics. Providing the right parts and tools to workers at the right time is key to efficiency. “The analogy we use is ‘the surgeon’s wheel,’ where the surgeon has everything needed within easy reach,” Power says. Similarly, Power says it’s important to view the physical demands of the work from the employee’s point of view. By making movement necessary only in what’s called “the strike zone,” both safety and comfort are increased. “Riveting, for instance, can be hard on the human body, so we are making sure our employees are in the best position possible to do the work at hand,” she says.
Introducing elements of automation into the inspection process is also a means of aiding rapid production and heightened quality. “Rather than requiring an employee to look at thousands and thousands of fasteners on a unit, employees will be able to utilize robotic scanning technology to identify discrepancies, enhancing the human side of performance and quality assurance,” Power says. Spirit’s use of the Lynx™ Visual Inspection System includes comparing an ideal image of a complex assembly to every subsequently produced unit, to determine if there are any parts missing or installed incorrectly, improving quality at every point of production.
Low-Tech, High-Impact Improvements
Sometimes a little ingenuity goes a long way. For instance, during the manual drilling process, it can sometimes be difficult to see the drilling location, so Spirit Research and Development created a way to attach mirrors to drills to enable a clear view. In riveting, finding the right bucking bar with the right contours and configurations can be difficult, so Spirit employees used 3D printing to test and build the exact shape of tungsten bucking bars needed. Additionally, LED lighting allows clearer visibility throughout the three layers of scaffolding surrounding the 767’s forward fuselage.
As the demand for both commercial and freighter aerostructures continues to rise, Spirit AeroSystems is working with customers and strategic partners to introduce new technology and leverage decades of expertise to move manufacturing forward.