Boeing’s secret plan to use robots to bring manufacturing back to the US

Boeing is pitting American robots against Japanese workers.
Boeing is pitting American robots against Japanese workers.
Image: AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle
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An anonymous senior engineer at Boeing has told the Seattle Times that the newest version of Boeing’s 777 jet, the 777X, will be built in a new way—with a “whole lot of automation.”

This could allow Boeing to manufacture the body of the 777X in the US. Currently, the aft fuselage of the 777 is built in Japan, by Mitsubishi Heavy. One of the unique features of the 777X is an extra-wide wingspan that will require folding wings.

In bringing more manufacturing of the 777 line back to the US, Boeing is apparently looking at more than just saving on labor costs: The company also doesn’t want to outsource its new, high-tech manufacturing process and potentially give up a competitive edge over competitor Airbus, which is heavily invested in automation. Automation could allow Boeing to increase production from 8 jets per month to 10 or even 12.

Automation has been key to keeping manufacturing in countries with high labor costs, like Germany, and experts argue that it’s key to the future of US manufacturing, if not jobs.