So-called champion times — the Boeing practice designed to foster camaraderie and boost production — are starting to show up in the manufacturing data at the company's 787 Dreamliner campus in North Charleston.
Since the start of this year, workers in the 787 assembly building are putting together wide-body Dreamliners at an average pace of 27 days, according to production data compiled by analyst Uresh Sheth on his All Things 787 website.
That compares to a rate of 34.9 days to build a Dreamliner during the same period in 2017.
The numbers are even better for those planes that have rolled out of the assembly building in February and March — an average build time of 22.6 days.
"We are continuously improving the efficiency of our build," said Paisley Matthews, director of final assembly at Boeing South Carolina. "That's the result of this champion mindset and our focus on safe, high-quality and efficient build of the airplane."
The North Charleston plant has come a long way since its first Dreamliner, which entered the assembly building in September 2011 and rolled out seven months later.
Matthews attributes the recent improvement to champion times — a practice that measures the amount of time it takes Boeing workers to complete tasks at each stage of a Dreamliner's assembly. The lowest total after all of the hours worked have been tallied is considered a champion time.
When a new champion time is recorded, Boeing analyzes the various factors that led to the achievement in hopes of improving on them even further and using those methods in other parts of the production process.
This year's fastest time for a North Charleston-built Dreamliner to make its way from the start of assembly to roll-out is 19 days — once for a 787-9 going to American Airlines and again for a 787-10 that will be delivered to Singapore Airlines in May.
The latter carrier took delivery of the very first 787-10 last week — the longest and most fuel efficient member of the Dreamliner family. Singapore Airlines has ordered 49 of the planes, which are built exclusively in North Charleston.
The compressed production times have led to a shorter line of planes moving through the assembly line. Dreamliners at the North Charleston site used to move through eight positions as they were built. Now, most are ready after moving through five positions. The rest of the space inside building 88-30 is now used for planes that need extra or specialized work or for parking when the flight line is full.
Sheth, an investment banker who tracks Dreamliner production, said he's noticed the shorter build times but isn't quite ready to call it a trend.
"I'm waiting for more airplanes to come through the production process," he said, adding that right now "it's too early, as it seems that they've just recently quickened the assembly pace."
Boeing's other Dreamliner assembly campus in Everett, Wash., is still building the planes at a faster pace — an average of 17.8 days per build through the first three months of this year. That's down from an average of 18.9 days during the same period in 2017.
Still, the shorter production times in North Charleston are helping to even out the number of Dreamliners built at each site. North Charleston had 17 roll-outs in the first three months of this year compared to 20 at Everett. A year ago, that split was 12 in North Charleston and 20 at Everett.