Boeing Expands Precision Machining for Titanium Parts

Aug. 17, 2017
Montana operation will be outfitted with new CNC tools for hard and lightweight materials for 777X assembly.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes completed a 90,000-ft2 expansion to a precision machining operation in Helena, Mont., in preparation for processing some critical parts of its forthcoming 777X aircraft. The Boeing Helena operations specialize in complex machining of hard metals for Boeing 737, 747, 767, and 787 models.

Now covering a total of 257,000-ft2, Boeing Helena will be outfitted with new machine tools for machining titanium parts, including side-of-body chords, and terminal end fittings that will connect the wings to the 777X fuselage.

Strong but lightweight, titanium presents difficulties for precision machining because the material’s hardness requires high-strength cutting tools, capable of high speed and advanced controls, as well as sophisticated cooling functions to offset the effects of high-powered machining on hard materials. The most discussed example of the latter is cryogenic machining, which channels liquid nitrogen to the cutting tool.

Boeing has not indicated the cost of its Montana expansion, nor the cutting technologies to be installed there by early next year.

The 777X will be a redesigned version of Boeing’s 777, a long-range twin-engine aircraft. Many of the design changes are intended to reduce that aircraft’s weight and improve it aerodynamics, to improve fuel efficiency and optimize operating costs.

The 777X will achieve 12% lower fuel consumption and 10% lower operating costs than competing aircraft (e.g., Airbus A350 and A380.)

The 777X will incorporate a variety of new metal composite materials as well as titanium parts. Longer wings will improve aerodynamics, and folding wing tips will allow the new jets to occupy many of the same gates now filled by the current 777 series aircraft.

The 777X will be available in two models, the 777-8X and 777-9X. The new aircraft will make its commercial debut scheduled in 2020.

Boeing established the Helena operation in 2010, purchasing it from Summit Aeronautics. This is the second expansion project since then. Boeing reportedly invested nearly $12 million in the expansion over the past year.

“Our investment in Boeing Helena is a testament to our incredible, hard-working team members and their ability to deliver on our commitments to The Boeing Co.,” stated Kim Smith, vice president and general manager. “It further positions our highly-skilled Montana team of nearly 150 employees as a key partner for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.”

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)

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