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Boeing 777X wing center opening
VIPs and workers gather for today’s grand opening of the 777X Composite Wing Center in Everett, Wash. The factory’s 120-foot-long autoclave is at right. (Credit: Boeing)

Boeing is showing off the partially automated 777X Composite Wing Center it built at its campus in Everett, Wash. – the result of $1 billion in investment and 14 months of construction work.

Today’s grand opening brought together community leaders, executives and workers at the 1.3 million-square-foot factory, which is big enough to house 25 football fields. It’ll be a while before 777X production begins, however. Boeing says it has received 320 orders and commitments so far for the wide-body plane, which can accommodate up to 425 passengers in its 777-9 configuration. The first delivery is targeted for 2020.

The 777X’s 114-foot-long wings will be built up from carbon composite material, layer by layer, with the aid of automated fiber placement machines from Electroimpact, based nearby in Mukilteo. The composite pieces will be trimmed and cooked to completion in a 120-foot-long oven known as an autoclave.

“It’s basically a really big pressure cooker,” Jonny Edwards, project manager for Everett site services, said in a Boeing video. Each part is heated to a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit for curing, in a chamber that’s pressurized with nitrogen and heated with natural gas.

One of the autoclaves has been installed already, and two more are expected to join the line by around 2020.

Much of the work of assembling the cooked parts into complete wings will be done by Electroimpact’s robots. Once the wings are put together, they’ll take a short trip to Boeing’s final assembly building – which has almost four times as much square footage as the wing center and ranks as the world’s biggest building by volume.

Boeing decided to assemble the 777X in Everett in 2014 after winning $8.7 billion in state tax incentives through 2040 and getting labor unions to agree to contract concessions. Those arrangements have become the subject of renewed debate in light of Boeing’s moves to trim its workforce, plus recent reports about the details of the tax deal.

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