Boeing's big gamble: half-plastic Dreamliner

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Final preparations continue on the first all-new, high-plastic Boeing Co. plane.

Broadcaster Tom Brokaw will emcee an event to unveil the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on July 8: 7/8/07.

``This is a magical time in the program,'' said Mike Bair, vice president and general manager of the 787 program, at the Paris Air Show, held June 13 in Le Bourget, France. ``When you are building the first airplane of an all-new type, the pressure is incredible and the hours are long, but accomplishments are immediately visible and the challenge brings out the best in our people.''

Officials report 45 customers already have ordered 634 of the planes being developed in Everett, Wash.

In order to build the lighter, fuel-saving craft, Chicago-based Boeing has ramped up its global supply chain, including some plastics manufacturers.

Units of Tokyo's Toray Industries Inc. supply much of the preimpregnated carbon fiber for polymer-matrix-composite structural components on the Dreamliner.

Using Boeing material standards, Toray Carbon Fibers America Inc. in Decatur, Ala., produces the toughened polyacrylonitrile-based fibers. Tacoma, Wash.-based Toray Composites (America) Inc. impregnates the intermediate-modulus, 24,000-filament T800S and standard-modulus, 12,000-filament T700G and 3,000-filament T300 fibers with Toray BMS 8-276 or 256 epoxy resin.

Characteristics of the T800S fiber help ease manufacturing and produce higher yields than those of Toray's T800H, which Boeing used in the 777 aircraft, launched in 1995.

Toray's T800S has a tensile strength of 853,000 pounds per square inch, a tensile modulus of 42.7 million psi and an elongation of 2 percent. Toray combs the fibers into a resin-coated sheet that is slit into widths of unidirectional and narrow tapes and rolled onto spools. Some fibers become woven fabric. Autoclave curing is used widely.

Boeing ships the materials to domestic and foreign processors for manufacturing a range of parts for the 787.

Reaching final assembly, Boeing workers in Everett use ergonomically designed, portable tools rather than major monument tools. Production is done with less waste and fewer hazardous materials. Modified Boeing 747s, called Dreamlifters, ferry structures as needed.

In composite technology, Boeing continues to grow, and possibly could surpass a precedent set by Toulouse, France-based Airbus SAS.

The 777 was Boeing's first foray into composites for commercial structural air frames, said F.E. Tipton, director of sales and marketing for Toray Carbon Fibers America. He thinks the 787 is a ``big Boeing gamble'' on widespread use of structural composites.

By weight, Boeing's 777 wide-body has about 9 percent in structural composites, primarily in the horizontal stabilizer, vertical fin and passenger cabin floor beams, while the 787 contains 50 percent composites.

Airbus anticipates about 25 percent composites in its A380 jumbo jet, which is to begin commercial flights later this year. Responding to the Boeing 787 design, Airbus has increased the composites content of its future A350XWB to about 52 percent.

By using composites, Boeing can combine six major aircraft structures into a single unit. The structures include the forward, center and aft fuselage sections, the wings, the horizontal stabilizer and the vertical fin.

The Boeing 787 fuselage frames utilize a ``clever'' textile braid-and-resin film infusion process and, in the future, the Boeing 787 may use polymer-matrix-composite ribs for wing structures, said industry consultant Bob Griffiths of ERG Ltd. in Somerton, England.

Structural material maker Hexcel Corp. of Stamford, Conn., said the 787 will significantly exceed its revenues per aircraft compared with existing Boeing planes.

Hexcel's new HexMC high-performance carbon molding composite is used in compression molding frames for the plane's largest windows.

Hexcel also supplies a noise-reducing, one-piece Acousti-Cap inserted septum core and, for nacelles for the General Electric Co. GEnx or Rolls-Royce plc Trent 1000 engine, HexPly AS4 prepregs and HexWeb honeycomb core.

Cytec Industries Inc. engineered materials division in Tempe, Ariz., is supplying Surface Master 905 fuselage surfacing film, bismaleimide for certain fuselage barrel tooling and a proprietary resin-infusion process in vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding of the aft pressure bulkhead.

Boeing's commercial airplanes unit intends to roll out one new 787 every three days, although that period excludes the global outsourcing schedule requirements, said officials. Models of the craft are designed to seat 210-330 passengers and cost $146 million to $151.5 million at list prices.

Carrier interest in the 787 is driving Boeing to create future models such as the 787-3 for shorter routes, the lengthened 787-9 for longer-range flights and, around 2013, a proposed 787-10, Bair said.

Boeing expects to fly a 787 later this summer and deliver the first model to Toyko's All Nippon Airways in May.

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Worldwide contributions for 787

The following companies have created composite parts for the Boeing 787:

* Nose fuselage from Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc. (formerly a Boeing operation) in Wichita, Kan., and the wing leading edge structures from a Spirit plant in Tulsa, Okla.

* Wing box from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. of Tokyo.

* Main landing gear wheel well, main wing fixed trailing edge and part of forward fuselage from Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. facility in Gifu, Japan

* Center wing box, integrated with main landing gear wheel well, from Tokyo-based Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.'s aerospace division.

* Horizontal stabilizer and center and aft fuselages from Vought Aircraft Industries Inc. in a North Charleston, S.C., facility and Finmeccanica SpA subsidiary Alenia Aeronautica SpA in Foggia, Italy.

* Passenger doors from Latecoere Group of Toulouse, France.

* Wing tips from the aerospace division of Seoul, South Korea-based Korean Air Lines Co. Ltd.

* Ice protection system, floor structure assemblies, cabin windows and engine cases from Redditch, England's GKN plc's North American and European aero structures units.

* Electrochromic windows from Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries Inc.'s aerospace business unit in Huntsville, Ala.

* Window frames from Nordam Group Inc.'s interiors and structures division in Tulsa, Okla.

* Nacelle systems and thrust reversers from Goodrich Corp. aero structures unit facilities in Chula Vista and Riverside, Calif.; San Marcos, Texas; and Everett, Wash.

* Vertical tail assembly and wing-to-body faring from Boeing fabrication in Frederickson, Wash., and Winnipeg, Ontario, and moving trailing edges from Boeing subsidiary Hawker de Havilland Pty Ltd. in Melbourne, Australia.

* Compression molded hydraulic clamps from CCS Composites of Benicia, Calif., a division of Perstorp Group's YLA Inc.

Source: Boeing Co.