If you travel a lot, you can almost certainly find yourself packed into a Boeing 737. Originally developed as a shorter, lower-cost twin-engine airliner derived from Boeing's 707 and 727, the 737 has developed into a family of ten passenger models with capacities from 85 to 215 passengers. This airplane of commercial aviation accounts for one of every three commercial flights, and there are around 2,000 of them in the air at any given time.
The factory, near Seattle, pump those planes out at the rate of 42 per month, and Boeing claims the 1.1-million-square-foot facility is most efficient airplane factory in the world. Every one of them rolled out of Boeing’s Renton Production Facility, where workers build a 737 in just nine days.
Methods of production have evolved enormously since the first 737 was made in 1966. The main difference is that instead of the aircraft being assembled in one spot they are now on a moving assembly line similar to that used in car production. This has the effect of accelerating production, which not only reduces the order backlog and waiting times for customers but also reduces production costs. The line moves continuously at a rate of 2 inches per minute; stopping only for worker breaks, critical production issues or between shifts. Timelines painted on the floor help workers gauge the progress of manufacturing.
Boeing faces fierce competition from arch rival Airbus. The 737 is the best-selling jet ever, with more than 9,000 delivered since its introduction in 1967, but the Airbus A320 is no slouch. The company has delivered about 6,700 of them since the airliner entered service in 1984.
Strong demand for single-aisle jets from low cost carriers and domestic airlines in China means both companies are ramping up production. Airbus says it will crank out 60 planes a month by 2019. Boeing plans to build 47 planes each month next year and ramp up to 57 in 2019.
Visit the refurbished and enlarged factory in Renton just to see how a 737 goes together!