MIAMI— The Boeing factory Renton get most of the attention when it comes to the company’s 737 deliveries but it is mostly about putting the pieces together on the finished project. For an airline customer the most interesting work comes months or years earlier at a nondescript warehouse tucked in the back of an industrial center a few miles down the road. That’s where the Boeing 737 Configuration Studio sits and, in many ways, where the magic happens well before the plane gets even close to rolling through the factory floor.
Step in off the street and you’re in a bit of 737 design heaven. The Configuration Studio is where airlines meet with Boeing and various vendors for interior components – seats, galleys, lavatories, etc. – to hash out which options will be included on the 737s as they are delivered. And, rather than just talking about theoretical options the facility can deliver actual setups for the airlines to try. Flooring rails are installed for each of the four vendors with seats on display. Want to explore different pitch options? Boeing and the seating vendors can deliver that on the fly.
Curious about in-flight entertainment choices? Several are available to trial in the back of the room. Thinking about half versus full carts in the galley? Head next door to explore three different vendors’ products all at once.
Kent Craver, the manufacturer’s regional director of cabin experience and revenue analysis, is responsible for the facility and joined Airways News for a tour recently, speaking candidly about the process and the value to airlines and to Boeing. He emphasized the collaborative nature of the space; it allows all the parties to sit together in a room and hash out the details until a design is ready to go to market. More than 70 airlines have visited the site since it opened in April 2014 with approximately 50 official design meetings hosted.
There’s something about being off-site from the factory and grabbing all the key people in one place. It is easier for the customer and easier for Boeing. [The Configuration Studio] gives us a way to make sure that we are appropriately engaged with all the stakeholders.
The Configuration Studio shows off some Boeing options as well. The newest Space Bin kit is on display, allowing airlines to evaluate the new design compared to the traditional Sky Interior bins. And it is shown off in a simulated cabin, with various vendors’ seats in place below. Again, getting to see the products in action in a simulated cabin environment helps airlines in the decision-making process.
For Craver, the ultimate goal is making sure passengers on board Boeing-operated flights are as comfortable as possible, a consideration which must be balanced against airline budgets and operational needs. The Configuration Studio helps to facilitate that drive, “We don’t care if you as a passenger understand why it is better. We just want it to be better. And we do a lot of research to make that happen.” The research and decision process covers more than just the physical seat design.
Fabrics and colors matter.
Even stitching patterns on the seats can affect comfort and durability over time.
It is easy to dismiss the significance of the facility as “just another conference room” but that belies the value it brings to both Boeing and the airlines. But is is far more than just a meeting facility. The central facility for all the groups removes the fragmentation the process previously experienced. It helps Boeing to better provide its research insight to airlines, hopefully creating a better ride for everyone.