RPT-Boeing speeds plants for soaring demand, but can it deliver?
* Production rate for the 777 to rise to 8.3/month
* Speeding up factories to handle record backlog
By Alwyn Scott
EVERETT, Washington, Oct 22 (Reuters) - As director of 777 manufacturing at Boeing Co, Jason Clark is busy overseeing more than 3,000 factory workers who build seven of the $300 million airliners every month.
He's about to get a lot busier.
On Tuesday, that production rate rises to 8.3 a month. It may seem a small step, but the 20 percent gain is key to competing with rival Airbus, and rewarding shareholders.
Standing on a platform two stories above the shop floor, Clark gestures to a machine drilling holes in a 777 fuselage. "It used to be all hand-drilled," he says. "Now it's automated."
Boeing is speeding up its factories to produce jets quicker than the past. It's a race to turn a record backlog of more than 4,000 orders into revenue and profit - something airlines and investors will be watching when Boeing posts third-quarter results on Wednesday.
But the effort faces significant challenges. Can Boeing get enough parts and people? And can it outmaneuver to win orders from Airbus, which also is lifting production? Continued...