SEATTLE— While the Boeing 787-8 has been a market changer in the industry, its building and assembly process have been a clear example on how globalization and novel manufacturing processes were matched to bring together one of the most advanced production lines in the world. However, it has not been an easy task. From quality control issues to design flaws and labor strife, the entry into service (EIS) of the Dreamliner has been traumatic for Boeing. Needless to say, it has also been an opportunity for the company to implement changes that not only will benefit the 787’s output, but also all its production lines.

During the recent Boeing Media days ahead of the 51st Le Bourget Air Show in Paris, Larry Loftis, vice president and general manager on the 787 program, provided insights on the current Dreamliner program status. He also offered a close look at the changes implemented in the existing production lines at Everett, Washington, and Charleston, South Carolina.

The Dreamliner is reaching its maturity

Since its EIS, the 787 has logged more than 257,000 flights and 568 million revenue miles, transported 48 million passengers and operated more than 500 flights a day for 31 airline customers thus far. On average, Dreamliners fly 12 hours a day and it is estimated that 2.1 billion pounds of fuel have been saved so far, together with a dispatch reliability finally reaching more than 99 percent after well-publicized teething pains.

Since its inaugural flight, 55 new city-pairs have been introduced on the 787, routes that were not economically feasible before, such as Tokyo to Denver and San Jose. Loftis assured that the advantage of the 787-8 is allowing airlines to fly new city-pairs and long, thin routes. Once the market matures, operators can upgauge to the 787-9, -10 or 777.

“I am pleased with where the value stream is with the 787,” commented Loftis. Currently, the 787 has reached a production of 10 aircraft per month — the highest wide-body production rate in history — even as it closes the temporary surge line in Everett. Between Everett and Charleston, the company expects to speed up the production to 12 aircraft per month in 2016 and 14 aircraft rolling out every month by the end of the decade.

“Moving to this high rate so quickly has put a lot of strain on our supply chain. This is the fastest production rate increase for a wide-body aircraft in history. As an example, the 777 program took 18 years to reach 8.2 aircraft per month,” Loftis said. “The production build in the 787 final assembly line (FAL) is quickening from 30 days to 24 days. All in all, this is considered quite a feat for an aircraft composed of 2.3 million parts.”

Loftis highlighted that at 12 airplanes per month, the cash flow of the program will turn positive by the end of 2015 in terms of profitability per unit cost. For the 787-9, Boeing claims there’s a 25 percent improvement in unit costs on current planes from first to the 20th . The even more mature 787-8 program is enjoying a 30 percent reduction in cost over first 190 planes. The 787-9’s production rate continues to increase.

The 787-9’s production rate continues to increase. As of May 31, 54 787s have been delivered in 2015. Of these, 27 correspond to the -9 variant, accounting for half of the deliveries of the Dreamliner.

According to Loftis, “the 787-9 will be more than half of deliveries in 2016. We will see a strong market for the 787-8, but modest upscaling so 787-9 and -10 will be larger parts of our production.” Loftis also stated that “the 787-9 production ramp-up went very well. The entry into service occurred on time and we learned additional lessons.” Boeing continues to see new demand for the 787 in 2015, with 34 new orders and some new customers including a hard-fought campaign for Air Tahiti Nui to replace its A340 fleet.

A never-ending synergy between production lines

Brett Vandeputte, director of production operations for the 787 program, exposed some interesting facts and updates of the Dreamliner production program. He described it as a never-ending synergy between Everett and Charleston, always having in mind the implementation of the best practices developed at both production sites. Currently, 600 people work on the 787 line, which has an output of 10 assembled aircraft per month between the Everett main and surge lines.

Currently, Charleston is moving to produce four aircraft per month and five per month by 2016 as it moves to a single wing-and-body function for both -9 and upcoming -10—just like the 777 production line. The Everett lines are currently implementing this function as well. In reference to the 787-10, Loftis reaffirmed that Charleston will be the only production site, dismissing rumors in the industry about a potential FAL in Everett. “We don’t have any plans to do 787-10 FAL in Everett. The main body system is too long to get into our Dreamlifters, and the logistics to get to Everett didn’t make sense to us.”

The first 787-10 will enter in production by the end of 2016, and will roll out in 2018. Everett has a production flow average of 26 days per aircraft. From position 0 load to final position 4 load out, a 787 spends approximately four days per position, although there are intervening days. Everett will have the 787 surge line deactivated at the end of the year, in lieu for the coming 777X production line, so flow time will be shorter. Boeing envisions a transition from the current pulse line to a moving line ala the 777 “within a few years.” The implementation of these practices has been successful for the company: the amount of rework has been reduced by over 30 percent in the first 190 aircraft produced, and the unit costs have also improved in the same number as well.

The implementation of these practices has been successful for the company: the amount of rework has been reduced by over 30 percent in the first 190 aircraft produced, and the unit costs have also improved in the same number as well. Also the number of pre-customer B-1/ B-2 test flights have been reduced drastically, from five-six flights before over the two flights required to just three presently. Also, the optimization of the production lines has allowed Boeing to redeploy extra employees to other programs and fewer people will be needed in the 787 program going forward.

Coping with suppliers

However, this production rate increase has not been flawless. Recent reports about late delivery of interior parts attributed to production issues from seat manufacturers were confirmed by Loftis. “The late delivery of interior parts, particularly seats has affected our deliveries. There has been extra staffing held to allow for late parts delivery,” he said.

The company is currently spending a lot of time with seat manufacturers to get their delivery back on track. With a growing back order of 823 aircraft from more than 60 customers worldwide and a forthcoming variant of the Dreamliner–the 787-10,  Boeing has many challenges ahead, but also unique opportunities from which they will not only gather experience and knowledge, but also much-needed profits.