Rise of the machines postponed: Boeing relies on humans again after robots fail its 777X jet fuselage assembly
America’s biggest aerospace corporation has finally dumped the robots that were used to assemble two main fuselage sections on the Boeing 777 and 777X long-haul airliners, according to Bloomberg.
Awkwardly called FAUB, or Fuselage Automated Upright Build, the system was introduced with great fanfare four years ago, advertised as an example of Boeing’s innovative spirit. It featured robots working in unison to drill holes precisely and put together the outer frame of the widebody jets.
But the top-notch robots – made by a company based in Germany – lacked the famous German accuracy and quality. They couldn’t synchronize drilling holes and inserting fasteners, which contributed to a snowballing of catch-up work that had to be finished by humans.
Back in 2016, the Seattle Times reported that problems were amassing at Boeing’s final assembly line. “FAUB is a horrible failure,” one Boeing worker admitted at the time. “They keep forcing these unfinished, damaged airplanes on us.”
Another veteran mechanic said each section was coming out of FAUB with hundreds of incomplete jobs. “It’s a nightmare,” he said.
Now, Boeing will rely on skilled workers again to manually put fasteners into holes drilled by a system known as “flex tracks.” While it’s still automated, it’s not as big and autonomous as the faulty FAUB.
The plane maker’s top managers admit that FAUB was a complete failure. “It was hard. It took years off my life,” Jason Clark, a Boeing vice president in charge of 777X production, has said.
The long-range 777X was originally scheduled to make its first test flight this summer, but it was postponed until 2020 due to issues with its General Electric engine. It isn’t clear if the latest revelation will cause further delays.
Marketed as a more fuel-efficient successor to the best-selling 777 model, the 777X provides seating for 365 passengers and has a range of over 16,000km.
Boeing’s smaller-size jets, like the 737NG and 737MAX, have been plagued by scandals. Earlier this year, the MAX model was grounded globally following two crashes which killed 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Investigations found that faulty software and sensors had contributed to the pilots not being able to control the planes.
The reputation of older NG-series aircraft also isn’t without a stain. Earlier, an urgent worldwide inspection found that dozens of aircraft had cracks in a structure connecting the plane’s wings to its fuselage.
Like this story? Share it with a friend!