Boeing Shifts 777 Work Back To Humans Following Robotic Failures

Boeing Shifts 777 Work Back To Humans Following Robotic Failures

In a world full of fears of robots taking jobs, Boeing Co BA is the company taking jobs from robots.

The robots that have been assembling the fuselage sections for Boeing’s 777 and 777X jets aren’t being laid off, but some of their work is being taken over by human mechanics. 

Humans Riveting 777 Fuselages Again

Boeing said Wednesday that machines will still drill holes along the fuselage panels, but human mechanics at the plane’s Everett, Washington assembly facility will now insert rivets into the holes along the fore and aft body sections of the planes.

Boeing started shifting to the robotic system in 2015, having the robots put tens of thousands rivets into the metal framework of the planes, rather than have mechanics do it by hand.

It developed the system with Kuka AG KUKAF, a German company whose robots are a standard in the auto industry.

Snarled Production

But Boeing found the robots didn’t work well together, with those working on one side of the metal fuselage panels sometimes going out of sync with those on the other side, which messed up the timing of the production line.

The company found itself using human workers anyway, who had to work overtime to fix the robots’ work.

Mechanics were telling the Seattle Times as early as 2016 that the new system was a failure that was badly snarling production.

This summer, Boeing began shifting back to a combined robot-human system, a "flex track," with a separate robotic machine drilling the holes and machinists or mechanics manually adding the rivets.

The shift was first reported by Bloomberg News.

Some Automation Continues

The company will still rely heavily on robots to build the 777X, which will be its largest-ever jet plane.

In addition to precision drilling of the holes for the rivets, which would be one of the most difficult jobs for humans, robots are used in several parts of the manufacturing process. Robots that install fasteners on the midsection of the fuselage will continue to do that work. And some of the vehicles that move parts around in the factory are automated.

A Boeing spokesman told Bloomberg that the change in “who” is doing the riveting won’t affect the total staffing for production of the 777 planes.

The Boeing 777X reportedly had a setback in final stress testing this fall when a cargo door was blown out under a high pressure stress test, but is expected to begin flying next year. Boeing has more than 300 orders for the plane from airlines.

Boeing Stock

Boeing shares were trading 1.2% higher at $366.89 at the time of publication Thursday. 

Related Links:

Boeing: 737 MAX Deliveries Could Resume In December 

Boeing 777X Test Failure Has Muted Impact For Air Cargo Sector

Photo by Dan Nevill via Wikimedia

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