Boeing 777 Factory

Why Boeing stopped using robots in building the 777’s fuselage

Robots in flight? No, we’re not talking about robots wearing pilot’s uniforms while flying planes. This is not a fact… yet. What we are referring to is robotic Technology to help build aircraft. This is nothing new and can be seen in many industries, such as automobiles and home appliances. Businesses large and small benefit from automated assistance, but it can have some drawbacks. for example, Boeing It has experimented with using these machines on some of its manufacturing lines over the past four years, but the space giant is now choosing to put more humans back into the process.

Today’s video is simple

A day in the life of a space robot

So, what kind of work does a robot do in an aviation production line? Aircraft manufacturing Motors It was a typical role, but they are also used to perform drilling, painting, and other tasks on airframes.

Drilling holes in components is the most extensive use of robots in the aerospace industry. Manual drilling can take several passes, while robots can do it in single passes. The robots drill the hole to its overall diameter and depth, including the expansion hole, in a single pass. Boeing’s Automated Rectangular Fuselage Construction (FAUB) was based on having robots work together to precisely drill holes and attach metal panels that were held upright to form the outer frame of the 777 and 777X. The technology was created by KUKA Systems, a company that has implemented similar levels of automation in the automotive industry.

Lufthansa 777X

Photo: Lufthansa

Demobilization of bots

While robots have proven to do their job well, Boeing prefers the human touch. Although the 777 and 777X have been the product of some automated work, the Chicago-based manufacturer wants to give the robotic workers notice of the layoffs.

In 2019, the aerospace giant reverted to relying on trained mechanics to manually insert fasteners into holes drilled along the aircraft’s perimeter by an automated system called “flexible tracks.” This process is not new to Boeing manufacturing and was refined on the 787 Dreamliner production line. Ironically, the FAUB was designed to replace humans who had to insert 60,000 rivets into each plane with hand tools.

So, why replace robots with humans? After all, bots never complain or ask for a pay raise. While this is true, the company values ​​the dexterity, creativity, and precision of human hands and eyes. In a word: teamwork. The robots operating in and out of the fuselage panels had difficulty moving synchronously. This jig of divergence has caused constant production delays due to humans having to fix machine mismatches, not to mention some aircraft being rolled out with partially completed functionality.

And so Boeing made the decision to remove robots from that part of the production line, and bring back humans instead. However, the project wasn’t a complete failure, Boeing vice president Jason Clark told The Star in 2019,

“It was hard. It took years out of my life. It was my first really deep dive into this kind of technology; it taught us how to design for automation.”

Boeing 777X-9 on the runway

Photo: Getty Images

Strategic use of bots

While robots have been phased out for the 777’s and 777’s fuselage panels, robots will continue to play an important role in many other areas, such as wings and even the vehicles used to move large structures inside Boeing’s plant in Everett, Washington.

The company claims that the 777X will be the world’s largest and most efficient twin-engine jet, which will offer 10% lower fuel use and emissions and 10% lower operating costs than the competition. Another highlight will be the assembly team of robots and humans, each vying to play a role in Boeing’s future.

  • 787-8 Dreamliner


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    Date of Establishment:

    Executive Director:
    Dave Calhoun

    Headquarters location:
    Chicago, USA

    Main product lines:
    Boeing 737, Boeing 747, Boeing 757, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787

    type of employment:
    Aircraft maker

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