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Airplane Production Evolves with New Technology

When Boeing unveiled its latest jet, the 787 Dreamliner, there was no actual airplane -- it was a virtual rollout. The NewsHour reports on how virtual technologies are changing the airplane manufacturing process.

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  • LEE HOCHBERG, NewsHour Correspondent:

    There's no bigger celebration at an aerospace factory than the rollout of a new airplane, like Boeing's 777 a decade ago.

  • ANNOUNCER:

    Ladies and gentlemen, this is the future of flight!

  • LEE HOCHBERG:

    So it was last month, with Boeing's latest jet, the 787 Dreamliner, except there was no airplane. It was a virtual rollout, symbolic of the virtual way the 787 is being built.

    Boeing designers and engineers have created the jetliner on computer screens, and they say they've worked the bugs out there, enough so, says process engineer Simon Cook, that they don't need actual wings and wheels.

  • SIMON COOK, Process Engineer, Boeing:

    They're not actually physically producing parts, and that's the important thing about this software, is we're doing it all prior to doing physical parts. We're building it before we build it.

  • LEE HOCHBERG:

    Boeing has used animation to design planes before, but expensive problems cropped up in the assembly process anyway.

  • SIMON COOK:

    It wasn't until we practically had one of these in the factory, and we were putting them together that you would actually say, "Hey, we've got a clash between — the part won't fit," or, "The mechanic can't get in there to actually fit this part."

    It would be then that we would find this problem, when the parts are here. It's too late. We've got massive rework. It slows down the production, right? It has a dramatic effect on when we can provide our customers the planes.