Production of Boeing 737 aircraft in Renton. 2011.

Kraków 2011-12-12

Production of Boeing 737 commercial aircraft.

It is commonly believed that the Boeing 737 are Seattle-manufactured. This is not true. Boeing Commercial Airplanes has several final assembly facilities for its aircraft. The largest plants are in Everett and Renton. Boeing 737 planes are being built in Renton.

Boeing B.737-800 SP-LWA. 2019 year. Photo by Karol Placha Hetman
Boeing B.737-800 SP-LWA. 2019 year. Photo by Karol Placha Hetman

Renton City and Boeing Plant in Washington State. 2011 year. Photo of Googlemaps
Renton City and Boeing Plant in Washington State. 2011 year. Photo of Googlemaps

A few words about Renton.

Renton is a City in the US state of Washington. It is located 21 km south-east of the City of Seattle, on the south-eastern shores of Lake Washington. The village was founded in 1860 as a mining and timber industry settlement. In 1916, the regulation of water management in these areas was completed. As a result of the actions taken, the level of Lake Washington decreased by several centimeters, which reduced the risk of flooding.

The real development of Renton City happened during the Second World War. When the German and Russian armies invaded the Republic of Poland, then Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States of America entered the war. A factory for the construction of B-29 Superfortress bombers was built in Renton. After the war, it was planned to start the production of water-planes and flying boats here. Mainly because of its convenient location on the shores of the lake. But this field of aviation did not develop. Assembly of other Boeing planes began in Renton. In 1970, there were only 6 major aviation companies in the USA. Since Renton had representatives here as many as 3 of them, the local newspaper announced Renton as the capital of jet planes in the world. As a curiosity, it can be mentioned that in 1994, the Swedish retail chain IKEA opened its first furniture store in the north-eastern part of America.

The production of Boeing 737 and Boeing 757 communication planes, which were produced here, was steadily growing in the 1990s. The plant was developing and needed more employees. In 2000, the city had 50,000 inhabitants, and in 2010, their number exceeded 90,000.

Free access to air space for air transport, initiated by socio-economic changes in Poland, and then throughout Eastern Europe, resulted in an increase in the demand for modern airplanes. And such could be provided by Boeing or Airbus. This contributed to the even stronger development of the City of Renton.

In 2007, a large branch of the Federal Aviation Administration - FAA, the world's most important organization dealing with aviation safety, was established in Renton. In 2010, the branch employed 1,400 people. The city was constantly developing. New shopping and entertainment centers were created and the hotel chain expanded. New houses were built. Among other things, in an estate called Landing, where 880 new residential houses were built. High-tech industry needs specialists, so education has also developed. The Boeing company in Renton is the largest employer. In 2009, it employed 13,169 employees.

And all this thanks to the production of the most popular and best communication aircraft, the Boeing 737 NG. By 2010, over 6,000 of these aircraft were built, and the order backlog is for another 3,000. It is not that if a plant already produces a given model, it will continue to do so. In recent months, the Boeing Campany branch in Renton has fought a great battle to produce another model, designated the 737 MAX. And he won this battle. The management of the plant, employees and the entire city are very happy about this fact. It is a perspective of further development and enrichment of the inhabitants.

In 2010, the City signed another contract for the lease by Boeing of the used Renton Municipal Airport. Due to the continuation of production of Boeing 737 aircraft, Boeing will have to conclude further agreements with the City for capital investments. Every day the residents of Renton prove their commitment to the development of the giant that is Boeing, with which they identify. They transform their work into development and success. The city is ready to take on new challenges. All residents are sure that thanks to their participation, the giant Boeing will continue to become the leader of the aviation industry. Through their reliable work and the best quality planes in the world, and not through the political tricks of their biggest competitor, Airbus. You have to tell the Americans that they are very pragmatic. They keep looking one step ahead. Their decisions are balanced. Despite the 2008 credit crunch, Renton's future is clear.

Boeing Company in Renton.

The Boeing factory in Renton was built on land obtained as a result of the lowering of the water level in Lake Washington (1916). The site was bought by coal industry industrialist Charles H. Burnett, who used it for coal storage and shipment by water. His family was related to the William Boeing family. After the death of Charles H. Burnett, the estate was managed by his daughter Amy Burnett, who allocated the areas of interest to us for meadows. In 1936, Amy Burnett transferred the property back to the state treasury, which in turn to the state treasury (owned by the US government).

At the beginning of World War II, the Department of the Navy allocated this site to the construction of a factory for the production of Boeing Sea Ranger aircraft. Ultimately, however, this order was canceled. However, the construction of the factory was not stopped. It was decided to place the production of B-29 Superfortress bombers transferred from Kansas City, as B-25 Mitchell bombers were still produced there.

1,119 B-29 bombers were built in Renton. With the end of World War II, production at Renton was shut down. It was hoped that the end of World War II, caused by the Germans and Russians, would make mankind come to their senses and lead to global disarmament. Here the Americans turned out to be very naive. The Russians have grown to the rank of the new world leader. The Cold War has begun. In 1948, the Renton plant went back into production. Construction of the C-97 Stratofreigher transport aircraft for the USAF air force began. Then, a passenger plane was built on its basis, with a high standard of travel. In total, 943 such machines were built at Renton.

In the 1950s, Boeing developed several models of transport and passenger aircraft. One of them was the Boeing 367-80. Several modern solutions were used in it; oblique wings, propulsion consisting of 4 Pratt & Whitney JT 3 turbojet engines with a thrust of 4 x 4,486 kG (4 x 44.5 kN), main chassis with four-wheeled bogies. The machine was also quite large; span 39.50 m, length 39.0 m, bearing area 223 m2 and take-off weight 72,600 kg. And most importantly, the fuselage section was enlarged so that it was possible to place 6 seats in one row with a passage in the middle. This significantly increased passenger capacity with a relatively short hull. Its prototype was built in Renton. The flight was performed in May 1954. The plane showed excellent performance; cruising speed of 885 km / h, cruising altitude of 13,100 m, and a maximum range of 5,750 km. This plane started the series of Boeing 707 and military Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker machines. Special planes for US presidents were built on its platform. Serial production of the Boeing 707 family aircraft lasted from October 28, 1957 to April 1991, i.e. 34 years.

Another airliner, the Boeing 727, was built at Renton, and it had many features in common with the Boeing 707. Production ran from 1963 to 1980.

Boeing B.737.

In 1968, another Boeing 737 model appeared. Its production beginnings were difficult. The design work was actually financed by European aviation companies (British Airways), which ordered the type. Only the following years and models brought the company great success. About what below.

In 1969, the construction of the first 4 copies of the world's largest aircraft, the Boeing 747, began in Renton. The first flight was made on February 9, 1969, but on December 13, 1969, during the landing of one of them (N732PA), the plane hit the RWY protruding sill and one of the main chassis was torn off. The wing and the engine nacelles were in contact with the concrete on one side. Nothing happened to anyone. The plane was repaired, but it was a signal to transfer production to another plant. The RWY at Renton Municipal Airport is specific and short. It is only 1,640 m (5,382 ft).

Another plane that was built in Renton was the Boeing 757. The prototype flew on February 19, 1982. Production ran until 2004. 1,050 copies were built.

Currently (2011), only the passenger and business Boeing 737-700 / 800/900 are being built in Renton. Boeing 737, intended for the military with specialized equipment, are also under construction. For example, early warning planes. But only so-called platforms are made at Renton. Specialized equipment is installed at other plants.

Boeing plants in Renton. You can see a few green planes. This is the Boeing 737 2011. Photo of Googlemaps
Boeing plants in Renton. You can see a few green planes. This is the Boeing 737 2011. Photo of Googlemaps

Renton Municipal Airport - Clayton Scott Pole.

Renton Municipal Airport is actually the name of the Renton airport. It is owned by the City of Renton, but leased to Boeing. In addition to Boeing, the airport is also used by air service planes, air taxis, company, business and leisure planes. Including flying boats. In 2005, the airport was named Clayton Scott Pole, in celebration of Clayton Scott's 100th birthday. IATA Airport Codes: RNT, ICAO: KRNT. The airport has one runway with a length of 1,640 m (5,382 ft). It is located in the direction of 16/34. The last renovation was carried out in 2009. The airport also has a ramp that allows you to release planes floating on the water.

Mc Donnell Douglas.

The Mc Donnell Douglas company is one of the most distinguished aviation companies in the USA. She has built thousands of successful transport and combat aircraft. Unfortunately, several disasters happened and confidence in the company declined. In the 1990s, the company ran into financial problems. The European giant Airbus expressed the will to take over the company and its modern technologies. Fortunately, national solidarity in the US prevailed and the company was taken over by Boeing in 1997. It was mainly about stopping modern technologies in the USA and keeping the production of the successful MD-80/90/95 machines.

Why did we write about it? Well, the Mc Donnell Douglas company was the first company in the world to build passenger planes on a modern production line, modeled on the assembly of cars. In 1995, the modernized MD-90 and MD-95 were developed. The latter has just started to be built this way. In 1999, the MD-95 was given the new designation of the Boeing 717.

But at the turn of the century, new competitors to the Boeing 717 appeared - airplanes; Canadair CRJ and Embraer E-Jets. In 2001, Boeing 717 sales collapsed. In December 2003, Boeing decided to discontinue production of this model. In addition, the Boeing 717 had extremely little affinity with other Boeing planes, and even with the MD-80/90 and DC-9 on which it was based. Although the cost of purchasing the Boeing 717 was 10% lower than the Airbus A 318, the shipping companies preferred Airbus. Due to the fact that a whole family of aircraft was created, based on the A 320, not one type. That's why Boeing quickly adapted to market needs and developed the Boeing 737 NG (600/700/800/900) family. The last Boeing 717 rolled off the assembly line in April 2006. in Long Beach, Southern California.

Series production of the Boeing 737 NG family.

Boeing used the experience of manufacturing the MD-95 / Boeing 717 and transferred it to Renton. I do not know exactly when the flat-line production of passenger-transport planes was launched at Renton, but we will not get much wrong when we point to 2006. Until now (2011), no plant in the world produces airplanes in this way. It is undoubtedly the most modern method of production. In 2005, Renton left 290 machines, 24 a month. In 2006, after starting the belt, productivity increased by 38%, 33 machines a month. As a result, one plane is built within 9-11 days. Monthly 32-33 machines leave the assembly line. In 2012, there will be 38 of them, and in 2013, 41 copies. It is difficult to increase efficiency because quality comes first. After the launch of the belt, it was planned in 2007 to build 36 machines a month, but it failed. And there are still around 3,000 to build.

Construction of the Boeing 737 NG family, or how is it made?

The construction of the Boeing 737 NG family does not start in Renton, but in a completely different factory. In a completely different US state, namely at the Spirit Aero-System factory in Wichita City, Kansas. Almost in the center of the USA. The Spirit Aero-System factory currently belongs to the Boeing concern (Boeing Military System and Boeing Commercial Airplane), to the Grup-Wichita Division. Generally involved in the production of fuselage segments for the currently produced Boeing 737/747/767/777/787 aircraft. It also builds engine nacelles and their pylons for Boeing 737/747/767/777 as well as Bombardier C-Series and Mitsubishi Jet Regional. The entire fuselage, vertical tail, horizontal tail, engine nacelles with pylons (booms), wing structural elements and their movable surfaces are built here for the Boeing 737 NG aircraft.

Spirit Aero-System Plant, Wichita, Kansas. 2011 year. Photo of Googlemaps
Spirit Aero-System Plant, Wichita, Kansas. 2011 year. Photo of Googlemaps

The production of the Boeing 737 fuselage begins with the assembly of the frames in the center wing and assembly templates. Since the first frame was inserted, it is already known which model was started - 737-700 / 800/900, because they differ in the length of the hull. The first are the three power frames of the center wing in the middle of the plane, to which the wing spars will be mounted. These frames are unshared and made as one unit. Subsequently, successive frames are inserted at the front and rear. Here they are already halved. The stringers are attached to them, and then the sheathing comes. The frames and stringers are covered with anti-corrosion coatings. The sheathing is made of duralumin clad with alloys, the main component of which is aluminum. Before assembly, the plating is subjected to the processes of rolling, tempering and aging. As a result, a relatively light, hard, relatively plastic product is obtained, and more resistant to material fatigue processes, which are the main cause of the decline in the safety of aircraft structures. The sheet metal is painted with a protective paint. It is she who gives the hull this greenish color. Before painting, this paint is washed off with water and detergents under pressure.

It is worth remembering that the basic power element of the Boeing 737 structure, as well as of most airplanes, is the center wing. It also serves as the primary fuel tank and houses the main landing gear compartments.

This is how the basic, cylindrical part of the fuselage was created. The front and rear parts, which were made for other positions, are mounted to it. Also in templates and stencils. The assembly precision must be exceptional. Deviations cannot exceed 1 mm. Because in the next stages of construction, the installation of other devices may turn out to be impossible. The hull moves to the next position. Here, halfway up the hull, there is a pier from the outside. It facilitates access to the interior of the fuselage and assembly of its upper elements.

Riveting is still the main method of joining individual elements of the hull. However, nowadays it is a process performed by automatics controlled by processors. They know exactly how many and where to make a hole and rivet it. The automatic sheathing assembly machine moves on two semicircular rails and carries out subsequent rivets.

Now the remaining upper parts of the fuselage are assembled. The hull is then subjected to the process of applying an additional internal anti-corrosion coating. Windows, door chambers and the doors themselves are installed. Additional holes are made for future antennas, probes, sight glasses. It installs fittings for the future assembly of the horizontal and vertical tail and wings. The hull also receives additional, temporary handles, helpful in transport with the use of overhead cranes, cranes and railways.

The fuselage is ready. Now it is undergoing a meticulous quality control. Receives a serial number. Subject experts know that the Boeing 737 has basically two serial numbers. It is the latter, usually four-digit, that is given in the Spirit Aero-System. And it basically concerns the hull itself. After any defects are removed, the hull is prepared for shipment to Renton. All windows are secured with reinforced, gray, water-resistant paper. All remaining holes and gaps are sealed. The hull is transported from the assembly hall to the railway siding.

Rail transportation from Wichita to Renton.

At the railway siding, the hull is loaded onto the railway platform. The fuselage rests on the platform, supported on trestles in the place of the center wing and the front undercarriage. Special pivots protect the load against undesirable shifting. The platform is basically two carriages combined into one set. The entire weight of the hull rests on the first car. The rear wagon is basically a safeguard for the rest of the hull to keep it from sticking out. A special steel structure resembling a shield is mounted at the front of the first wagon, and it actually plays such a role. Its extreme dimensions are greater than the extreme dimensions of the hull. The shield is to move fallen trees or poles away so that the hull is not damaged. Simple and effective. The railway had to arrange the travel route in such a way as to avoid extremely narrow tunnels or truss bridges. The fuselage of the Boeing 737 is the largest plane that is transported by rail on normal railroads.

Now the hull is facing a long rail journey. About 2,977 km (1,850 miles) is the distance between the cities of Wichita and Renton. The train journey takes approximately 8 to 10 days. Such a trip is definitely cheaper than air transport by a special Boeing 747. Although, of course, much longer.

Working at Renton.

When the Boeing 737 fuselage train arrives at Renton, it is reloaded onto a special long trolley on rubber wheels, pulled by a tractor, similar to a pickup. And it drives into the assembly hall in Renton. This hall was once the largest building in the world in terms of cubature.

The hull is moved to the first assembly station. After the quality acceptance, the first thing to do is to assemble the floors. They are made of plastics. Manholes are fitted at certain points on the floor to view certain components of the lower deck. The lower deck, where the trunks are, also receives a floor. Four metal profiles run along the fuselage in the passenger compartment. Passenger seats that can be easily assembled and disassembled will be attached to them. At this stage, any hull configuration is still possible.

As it is dark in the fuselage, fluorescent lighting is set up there, which changes as the work progresses.

Now the installation of the internal insulation begins. It is made on the pattern of mineral wool, with a high degree of hardness. (Currently there are no non-flammable materials. Everything is on fire. Even concrete. It's just a matter of temperature and exposure time). This filling functions as thermal and sound insulation.

Installation of the electrical and plumbing systems begins almost simultaneously. The Boeing 737 plane, like most Boeing machines, does not have a pneumatic system, which is lighter, but causes more operational problems. There are three hydraulic installations (2 essential and 1 emergency) and 4 electrical wiring harnesses running along the length of the fuselage. In addition, there is a ventilation and air-conditioning and heating installation.

At other sites, at the same time, the production of wings is underway. Most of the components as semi-finished products are built at Spirit Aero-System in Wichita. And delivered by rail. At Renton, everything is assembled together. Wings are highly complex components and a lot of work is still done by the workers. Especially putting it all together. The wing is mounted vertically, with the leading edge facing up. All movable surfaces are made of plastics. Their connection is hinged, and they are sometimes very complicated. This won't be done by the robot.

The most experienced employees also perform strenuous work in the crew cabin. All installations have their origin here, or there are their control systems. Do not make a mistake in the bundles of colored cables. Not because the mistake will not be detected, but because it will cost a lot of time to fix it. At the bottom, cable harnesses are led out and a frame is mounted to which the switchboard with monitors and control gears will be mounted. The assembly of electronics cabinets is also starting. Now the fuselage is transferred to a position where it will receive wings and a tail. They will be attached only with the essential fittings. The rest will be installed later. The chassis is pre-assembled. Now the copy will be given a green light and will travel along the entire length of the hall at a speed of 5 cm / minute, i.e. 3 m / h.

This is how the route of the Boeing 737 aircraft on the assembly line, which is nearly 400 m long and will end after approximately 130 hours (i.e. 5.5 days), with a fit plane, began. Until 2006 it was different. The assembly took place during shift I and II, and during shift III (night shift), tugboats moved planes to successive positions. Now work continues smoothly in all positions on all three shifts. The Americans plan to set the planes at a 45-degree angle in the future, and this will allow more than 8 machines (11 aircraft) to be placed on the production line.

Passing successive positions, the plane receives new equipment. Now all employees who enter the cabin are wearing white gloves and shoes with white soles. All this so as not to dirty the elements that will already be visible to passengers. Cabin trunks are mounted in the cabin. Then, internal walls made of plastics are put in place, together with window recesses and their curtains. There are more installations under the ceiling and lighting is mounted. A roof lining made of plastic is assumed. Now it is bright in the cabin, because the interior lighting is already shining, and the bright walls additionally reflect the light. The floor covering is mounted on self-adhesive tapes. The color of the carpet depends on the future user. One or two kitchens are mounted. Also one or two toilets.

Emergency airplane descent systems are installed. Movable gangways are installed. Equipment operated from outside the airplane is installed; fuel valves, electrical sockets, on-board conversation socket.

The crew cabin is being equipped. They are mounted; monitors, control gears, dashboard panels, electronic components (autopilot, recorders, radar stations, radio stations, deck talkers, fuse panels, etc.), interior cabin walls, air blowers on windows and windshield wipers, crew seats and many other trinkets. The wings and tail are fitted with actuators, other installations, fairings and curtains for the sight glasses. The winglets are attached. Some installations are filling. Especially hydraulic. To check the correct operation of the moving surfaces. The landing gear is assembled and the retraction and extension tests are carried out with the main and emergency systems.

At the end of the production line, the two main CFM 56 engines and the APU unit are assembled. The engines are brought to Renton along with the nacelles, electricity generators and other accessories housed in the nacelle. No engine test is performed on the production line. It will be made outside.

The last element of the cabin equipment is the installation of passenger seats. They are made in sets of three or two on two legs. It is immediately clear whether they will be mounted on the left or right side of the cabin. The type and color of upholstery from a large palette are selected by the customer. You can also order armchairs with LCD screens mounted in the headrests. The additional installation is then stretched. Renton seats come from another factory and are ready for immediate installation. As the majority of customers are low-cost airlines, they do not use two-class passenger cabins. Therefore, sets with two seats are extremely rare. In addition, Boeing did not use additional doors and walls of the passenger compartment. This allows for more seats and the plane is lighter.

A team of people watches over the production. They occupy a dozen or so positions in the facility located a few meters above the 0 m level of the hall, resembling a control room. At computerized stands, they supervise the delivery of products and their subsequent assembly. The point is that the production does not end up with too many elements, that there would be nowhere to assemble, or that something is not missing. If the line stops (red light comes on) it will be their error. They have to detect difficulties in advance and properly manage the workers downstairs. The plane is almost ready for flight. Now it is pulled out of the production hall by a drawbar tractor, i.e. it is rolled over. It often happens that the user's representatives come to this activity. But remember, the plane isn't painted yet. The plane rolls over to the service stand. There are two main steps involved here; quality and specification control as well as maintenance activities before the flight. The first one is to detect any inconsistencies with the order and possible defects, and its effect is the serial number, registration, logbook creation and FAA certificate of airworthiness. In a word, all paperwork. The second one; replenishes operating fluids, and above all refuel the plane for a flight called take-off.

The plane's flight is performed by the Boeing factory crew, namely the Boeing Field branch in Everett. Take off from Renton Airport. If everything is correct, the plane flies to the zone and performs the maneuvers provided for in the detailed instructions. The flight takes approximately 50 minutes. The plane lands in Renton, but most often in Everett. Here the plane gets painted. Painting is carried out in accordance with the scheme presented by the user. As all the moving surfaces of an airplane are made of plastic, they often have the appropriate colors. Painting is carried out in a paint shop that houses one plane. It is a closed building equipped with ventilation. First, the plane is washed with water and detergents. When washing from the plane, the protective greenish paint is washed off. Now the plane is being wiped dry. The undercarriage, motors, antennas, sensor, windows are secured; before spraying with paint. A primer is applied to the entire plane. Usually light yellow in color. After it dries, the plane is usually covered with white paint, and then other colors are applied according to a pattern. Hundreds of square meters of gray, hand-cut paper are used. Painting is done manually with guns. Painters use special coveralls and six automatically controlled work platforms. A Boeing 737 uses between 40 and 80 liters of paint. It depends on the chosen pattern. The plane is painted.

Now the plane can be handed over to the recipient. If this is the first aircraft in a series ordered by the user, the handover takes place at Renton so that the management of the ordering company can also familiarize themselves with the production process. It sometimes happens that the machine is baptized then. This ceremony is also used to sign another contract or a preliminary (option) contract for the next machines. Banquets and masses are often organized.

The production of one Boeing 737 took 53 days from the first frame to be delivered to the user. Some machines of this size can be manufactured for a shorter period of time. But if we count the 10-day rail journey, 43 days is an excellent result. And if we take into account the volume of production, the Boeing 737 has no competitor. On the same production line, apart from the commercial Boeing 737, also the business Boeing 737 with a completely different interior, as well as P-8, i.e. patrol planes, are built.

What's next?

Production of the Boeing 737 at Renton will continue. After completing orders for the Boeing 737-700 / 800/900, the Boeing 737 MAX 7/8/9 will be produced here, which will receive many solutions from the world's most modern communication aircraft, the Boeing 787.

Written by Karol Placha Hetman