Automated 777 Line Delivers Big Improvements

By Michael Mecham , Guy Norris
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

The most recent addition is an ABB-developed automatic painting system being used for 777 wings. The 19-axis painter can complete a 777 wing in 24 min. versus a paint crew's average time of 4.5 hr. The system's paint heads have an 18-ft. reach rather than the 4-ft. span the average human can attain, Clark says. More important, it sprays so evenly—leaving no “heavy spots”—that Boeing is seeing an average 79-lb. weight reduction per wing. Other benefits include a 20% improvement in ergonomics, a 70% environmental payoff, a 25% reduction in defective paint spray and flow-time improvement of 40%.

So far, the sprayers are only being used to spread the PMS 1060 standard gray paint on wing surfaces, which produces less drag than the PMS 1072 used as body paint. But the sprayers are being considered for use on fuselages, given that this portion is often heavily masked for customer liveries.

Flow times through paint hangars can be an impediment to the production flow. Boeing's installation of hangars just off the final assembly line for painting vertical stabilizers is credited with allowing it to move from a 7-aircraft-per-month production rate to 8.3, or 100 a year. Previously, the stabilizers were painted in the main fuselage paint hangar that is separated from final assembly, a process that ate into flow rates.

The booths that house the automated sprayers are large enough to accommodate the 777X family's all-composite wing. Boeing has not revealed its specifications, but it is expected to be in the range of 233 ft., the longest of any of the company's aircraft.

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