Robots and humans unite on Boeing’s 777X

Robot on 777 line
Robot 2, built by Electroimpact, places fasteners into precisely drilled holes in the fuselage for a 777 jet at Boeing’s Everett plant. In this case, a human worker inside the fuselage hooks up the other part of the fastener. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

EVERETT, Wash. – Some manufacturing workers may worry that robots will be stealing their jobs, but not Boeing’s Jordan Northrup.

He’s glad to work with Robot 1 and Robot 2, the industrial-strength machines that drill holes and hook up fasteners in the metal panels of a Boeing 777 jet’s fuselage.

“Instead of blowing my shoulder out, shooting 300 fasteners a day or countersinking 300 holes a day, I get to learn a new skill. … I get to run a robot,” said Northrup, structures team lead for midbody at the Fuselage Automated Upright Build facility in Boeing’s Everett plant.

The facility, known as the FAUB, is just one of the places where Boeing is upping the ante for automation in the airplane industry. Boeing showed off the FAUB and other robotic hot spots at its Everett plant as a preview for this month’s Paris Air Show.

As Boeing gears up to start building 777X airplanes, the company is building on its experience with robot-assisted assembly for the widebody 787 Dreamliner and single-aisle 737 MAX.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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