“We have to be the best at getting better,” says Michael Dickinson, managing director of Boeing Aerostructures Australia, the largest Boeing manufacturing site outside of the U.S.—and one located in a country presenting considerable cost challenges for aerospace. With a currency and wage structure driven high by Chinese demand for minerals and 22 years of uninterrupted economic growth, Australia is facing a general decline in its secondary industry, a sector that has never been one of its strengths. Indeed, stories of struggling Australian manufacturers are so widespread that Boeing's evident success at its Melbourne composites plant comes as a surprise to locals.
Part of Boeing's answer is commonly seen in aerospace manufacturing in high-cost countries: Boeing Aerostructures Australia specializes in certain types of parts and uses advanced manufacturing technology that countries with cheap labor and lower skills have not widely adopted—or at least not yet. Hence the other element of Boeing's Australian strategy: The plant has a well-staffed research and development center that is tightly integrated with the factory and tasked with supplying it with technology to keep it ahead of the game, as well as serving Boeing operations globally.