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Boeing planning $35M Mont. plant expansion

Keywords: Tags  titanium, plant expansion, Boeing, Montana facility, Boeing Helena, 787-10, Dreamliner, James McNerney Frank Haflich


LOS ANGELES — Boeing Co. is planning a $35-million expansion of its Helena, Mont., manufacturing facility that will raise the company’s titanium machining capacity and prepare the site for a growing role on the 787 Dreamliner.

The 50-percent expansion of the plant is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2014 and reflect its ability to operate as a "globally competitive supplier" to Chicago-based Boeing’s commercial aircraft programs, chairman, president and chief executive officer James McNerney said this week at a state jobs conference in Butte, Mont. Boeing acquired the facility when it bought Summit Aeronautics Group, a privately owned parts supplier, in 2010 ( amm.com, Nov. 22, 2010).

The expansion means the facility will "continue to be another key hard metals supplier for Boeing for many years to come," Eric Smith, director and site leader of Boeing Helena, told a local group separately this week.

The expansion will add more than 55,000 square feet, bringing the plant to 167,000 square feet, Boeing said.

"Basically, we’re at capacity (in Helena)," a Boeing spokeswoman said, adding that the project will also include the purchase of computer numerical control milling machines and drilling equipment.

Titanium currently accounts for more than half of Boeing Helena’s work, with aluminum making up about 23 percent and a smaller amount of 15-5 precipitation hardening martensitic stainless steel, the spokeswoman said. The company’s other major hard metals machining operation in the Pacific Northwest is in Portland, Ore.

The Helena facility, which makes parts for all of Boeing’s commercial transports except the twin-aisle 777 airliner, will eventually increase its 144-person work force by 20 to 25 employees. Unlike other Boeing operations in the Pacific Northwest, Boeing Helena’s salaried employees aren’t represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union.

The titanium side-of-body chord, which helps attach the composite wing to the composite fuselage, is among the Dreamliner components machined by Boeing Helena from forgings shipped from Russia. Boeing Helena performs this role on the 787-8 and 787-9, which made its first flight this week. That will be expanded with the 787-10, the Dreamliner’s third and largest version, which was officially launched in June and is due to begin final assembly and flight testing in 2017.

Smith pointed out that production of the 787 side-to-body chord begins "halfway around the world" with titanium ore from Russia’s Ural Mountains, which is converted into forgings that are shipped to Montana. This role is performed by Russia’s VSMPO-Avisma Corp., one of Boeing’s three major titanium sources under its system of long-term supply agreements, as well as CJSC Ural Boeing Manufacturing, a joint venture of the two companies.

Once machined into complex parts in Helena, the chords are shipped to another Boeing supplier in Japan where they are installed on the 787 wings, then shipped for connection to the fuselage at either of the Dreamliner’s two final assembly sites in Everett, Wash., or Charleston, S.C., Smith added.


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