Robots at Boeing: Ex-Boeing Employee Chimes In On Robotics

In response to Humanoid Robots to Manufacture Planes, reader “XBE”, a 37-year ex-Boeing employee, pinged me with a few comments on robots and trends in the number of people it takes to build a plane.

by Mish

“XBE” writes ….

Hello Mish
You are 100% correct about the impact of robots in aircraft manufacturing and elsewhere.
I spent 37 years at Boeing as a design engineer (1967-2004). I have a MSME (master of science in mechanical engineering). This is what I know.
The new 777X composite wing plant in Everett shocked the IAM (machinists union) as to how few new jobs were needed.
The same happened at the new Propulsion assembly plant in Charleston. On opening day, IAM was greeted by a huge, giant robot welcoming them.
In 2015, 79300 Boeing employees delivering 700 airplanes. That’s 113 employees per airplane.
When I joined Boeing in 1967, Puget Sound had 120,000 employees and Boeing delivered about 300 airplanes (from memory). That’s 400 employees/airplane.
Since 1967 there has been a 72% reduction in the number of people it takes to build an airplane!
People I know in the robotic business tell me 60% of today’s jobs will be gone in 20 years. You have covered them: trucking, strawberry/cabbage picking, etc.Ex-Boeing Employee

Boeing’s Plane Output Climbs Even as Jobs Decline

Local assembly plants are cranking out airplanes, pushing Boeing way past Airbus in jet deliveries. Yet the morale of the local workforce doesn’t match the boom, with employees troubled by continued job losses and by the fear of more to come.
As of Nov. 30, Boeing had 1,424 fewer workers in Washington than it had at the beginning of the year.
Its workforce here is down nearly 7,700 jobs, almost 9 percent, from the most recent peak in October 2012.

Robot Technology

Another Seattle Times article on 777X Production has these snips on robots.

Boeing is installing new robotic technology in its Frederickson plant, where the 777 tail is built, as well as in Everett, where the fuselage and wing are fabricated and the plane assembled.
In Frederickson, robots will reduce manual drilling operations by 80 percent, Lund said.
In Everett, Boeing is building a separate fuselage facility where robots similar to those used in auto manufacturing will stitch together the aluminum panels to make the 777 fuselage.
Elsewhere on the site, behind closed doors, Boeing has already built an 80-foot-long prototype composite wing section to get a head start on perfecting the automated manufacturing process.

Things that people tell me won’t happen, are happening right before our eyes.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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