Boeing says it’ll be repurposing the Seattle-area facility that has served as the focus for research into the composite materials used in aircraft ranging from the B-2 Stealth bomber to the 787 Dreamliner.
In an emailed statement, Boeing said much of the work being done at the Advanced Developmental Composites Center, situated across the street from Seattle’s Museum of Flight, will be distributed to other Boeing facilities — mostly in the Puget Sound region. Other work, unrelated to Boeing Commercial Airplanes, will continue to be done at the 600,000-square-foot facility.
Boeing cast the move as a cost-saving and efficiency-enhancing measure.
“We continue to take comprehensive action across the enterprise to adapt to our new market reality and transform our business to be leaner and more sustainable for the future,” the company said in its statement. “This is one of several steps we’re taking to streamline our operations and make more efficient use of our facility space. Boeing continues to invest in development of advanced composites for future products, and going forward this will take place in other local Boeing facilities.”
The change in operations was first reported in The Seattle Times.
A decade ago, the Times reported that Boeing was putting 900 employees to work at the center to boost the company’s composite production capabilities for the 787 Dreamliner. Since then, however, composites have gone mainstream. Composites account for 50% of the weight of the Dreamliner, and in 2016, Boeing pushed the frontier even further with a billion-dollar composite wing facility for the 777X at its factory in Everett, Wash.
The Times quoted a spokesman for Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, Bill Dugovich, as saying that 29 union members currently work at the center — and that the union was seeking more information about the center’s fate. The word from Boeing is that the transition is expected to unfold over the course of 2021, and that the potential employment impact has already been factored into the company’s outlook for the year.
Boeing has had to scale back its R&D ambitions on other fronts as well, due to the financial impacts of the 737 MAX crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Last June, Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems dialed down their engineering support for Aerion Supersonic’s business jet — and last September, Boeing said it was putting its air mobility initiative on pause.