The steel-frame struc-ture going up at the Boeing campus along International Boulevard is imposing enough, but nowhere near what the company’s Dreamliner paint facility will look like when construction wraps up sometime in late 2016.
At 10 stories tall and nearly two football fields wide, the facility at Boeing’s North Charleston campus will be able to accommodate two 787-10s — Boeing’s largest planned Dreamliner, at 224 feet long and a wingspan of nearly 200 feet — at the same time.
To put that in perspective, a dozen of Charleston’s Battery-front mansions could fit inside the paint hangar, with enough room left over to park a fleet of horse-drawn carriages.
“This is going to add a lot of value for our customers because it’s greater convenience for them,” said Boeing South Carolina spokesman Rob Gross, adding that North Charleston-made Dreamliners currently have to be flown to out-of-state contractors for their painted graphics, also known as livery, that identify each airplane with its owner.
“It also lets us lean out our manufacturing and production processes, making our delivery process more efficient,” he said.
Currently, planes roll out from final assembly to the tarmac for preflight checks, flight prep and their first test flight. Then they go out of state for a paint job, returning to North Charleston for final prep work and customer delivery.
“Another advantage of having the paint facility onsite is it will give us the flexibility to paint the airplanes either according to the current process or as soon as they roll out of final assembly in order to maximize scheduling efficiencies,” Gross said.
Boeing keeps its construction costs and schedules close to the vest, but Skanska Corp., the contractor hired to build the paint facility, put the construction price tag at $82 million in a written statement announcing the job. Live Oak Consultants, a North Charleston firm that provided design and engineering work, put the overall cost at $212 million.
Gross would say only that the paint facility “is continuing on schedule” and its cost is included in a $1.1 billion capital expenditure plan the company announced in 2013.
“We don’t typically break out individual projects in terms of cost,” he said.
Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, talked about the addition during a late 2014 visit to North Charleston.
“That paint facility is going to be very beneficial in terms of cutting down the flow time it takes between building an airplane and delivering it,” Conner said in December. “So, instead of having to fly it someplace else to get it painted, we can do it right here.”
In addition to the two paint bays, the structure will include office towers and mechanical and electrical rooms. It will also contain an extensive mechanical, electrical and plumbing system to handle the airflow requirements for the paint process.
About 4,000 tons of steel is being used to build the facility, with four 250-foot-tall cranes lifting 502 steel columns and 2,398 steel beams into place.
The paint facility is part of an ongoing expansion at the North Charleston site, with Boeing also leasing 470 acres for possible future growth needs. The lease includes a provision that Boeing can purchase the land at the end of the lease term in 2027.
Saj Ahmad, chief analyst with Strategic Aero Research, said Boeing’s investment in the paint facility — which can be used for any type of plane, not just the Dreamliner — and banking land for the future shows the company views North Charleston as a long-term commitment.
“Boeing saw South Carolina as a possible home for all 787-related production and I have no doubt that Boeing may well try and shift all of it there in the future, if only because it would help slash costs, transport and logistics efforts and further de-risk the program,” Ahmad said. “The diversification of Boeing South Carolina into paint ... demonstrates a readiness and willingness to move when needed to tackle, take on and integrate new functions.”
Boeing South Carolina fabricates, assembles and installs systems for rear fuselage sections of the Dreamliner and joins and integrates midbody fuselage sections. The North Charleston campus also is home to a final assembly and delivery facility. An Interiors Responsibility Center at the Palmetto Commerce Park manufactures, assembles and installs interior parts for North Charleston-built 787s.
Boeing also has a research and technology center at the Palmetto Commerce Park as well as a propulsion center that designs and assembles the 737 MAX engine nacelle inlet and designs the 737 MAX engine nacelle fan cowl and the 777X nacelle.
Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_