Workers at Boeing Aerostructures Australia work with new technologies.

The R&DTI has helped Boeing’s R&D in resin infusion, next generation materials, and light robotics.

Company Profile

Company: Boeing Australia Holdings

Sector: Manufacturing

Location: Melbourne

Profile: Boeing is the world's largest aerospace company. It is a leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners, and defence, space and security systems. It is also a service provider of aftermarket support.

Boeing's presence in Australia is the company's largest outside the United States. The company partners with the Australian defence and commercial industries, and is an important part of the Australian research community.

Boeing Aerostructures Australia (BAA) is Australia’s only designer and manufacturer of structural composite components for Boeing commercial aeroplanes. BAA designs, tests, certifies and manufactures advanced structures for commercial airliners.

Why R&D is needed

In March 2008, Boeing started an Australian branch of Boeing Research & Technology (BR&T), its advanced research and development unit. Boeing set up BR&T to better support its businesses here in Australia. BR&T works with other R&D organisations including universities, private sector providers, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST).

BR&T develop new ways of curing composite structures using resin infusion technology. Since the mid-2000s, BAA has used the first generation of this technology to create its 787 Dreamliner ailerons and flaps. Ailerons are a hinged surface at the edge of plane wings that help control the roll of the plane. Boeing’s technology helps speed up production and reduce costs. By refining its process, BAA can win contracts to build components for the next Boeing aircraft.

BR&T also develops the tools and manufacturing processes to make the second generation of its application. BR&T aims to make the manufacturing of components in Australia low-cost and efficient, while making sure aerospace standards are high. So far, BR&T has applied this technology to trailing edge structures like its 787 ailerons and flaps.

BR&T plans to do further research on resin infusion composites. It plans to apply this technology to primary aircraft structures such as the fuselage (main aircraft body) and wings. BR&T needs to continue investing in R&D activity if it wants to advance aircraft manufacturing, for current and future Boeing designs.

BR&T also does R&D activities in robotics. In the BAA factory, there are many examples of robotics and automation cells. These help produce components for 787 and 737 airplanes.

For example, when BAA produced 737 aileron, workers had to manually machine off titanium rivet stems from components. This made the final stages of assembly time-consuming. The process also created ergonomic and safety issue for employees. Now, BAA uses a collaborative robot, or “cobot”, to work alongside a human operator. This lessens the ergonomic hazards for employees and frees them up to focus on other tasks. It also speeds up production of the 737 ailerons.

To make the production of 737 more efficient, BR&T needed to invest a lot into its R&D. BR&T has planned more R&D around mobile collaborative robots in production processes. Mobile robots will work more autonomously than current models. Boeing uses targeted automation to work smarter, allowing its skilled labour force to better use their time.

BR&T’s R&D in robotics and composite materials has helped improve productivity over the past few years. While Boeing used to make 10 of the 787 Dreamliner shipsets a month; it now makes 14. It used to make 40 of the 737 shipsets a month; and now it makes 50. These increases use the same amount of factory floorspace and the same amount of labour. BR&T helped Boeing to improve its manufacturing techniques using the latest technologies.

How the Research and Development Tax Incentive helps

The R&DTI helps BR&T to get the most out of its research investment. It helps BR&T improve its research programs and BR&T to win investments from other parties. Shareholders expect Boeing to take advantage of programs that make its money go further. The R&DTI has improved Boeing’s cash flow, allowing the company to undertake further R&D activities.

The R&DTI also helped BR&T to drive its modernisation program. In recent years, BR&T has used automation to increase productivity of aircraft components by about 40%.

“The R&DTI has supported the BR&T unit in developing leadership in research areas for the company that can be exploited within Boeing Australia business units and across the enterprise for the Boeing company,” BR&T general manager Michael Edwards said.

The R&DTI has helped Boeing operations in Australia, benefiting local communities with employment. Boeing’s R&D has led to more employment in exciting roles involving cutting edge technologies.

During the past 10 years, BR&T has grown its workforce from 20 people to 85, across 3 Australian sites. BR&T offers careers for high-tech scientists and engineers in Australia’s aerospace industry. BR&T has grown its graduate program to offer more scholarships. In one year, it grew its number of PhD and post-doctoral scholarships from 23 across 7 universities, to 28 across 10 universities.

Through the R&DTI, Boeing has introduced light robotics to train its employees in new technologies. Robots now do more of the repetitive and ergonomically challenging work. BR&T offers employment opportunities that aren’t available in other markets.

The R&DTI has helped BR&T build a strong leadership team, making its Australia branch a more important part of its global presence.

“The R&DTI enhances our overall investment in Australia and has encouraged the start-up of our smaller suppliers from various industries,” said Boeing tax specialist Robert Marxen.

The R&DTI has also benefited Australia outside of Boeing’s business. Boeing’s rapid growth and increase in cash flow has encouraged the start-up of new suppliers in supporting industries. Many of these suppliers have taken part in the R&DTI, helping them to grow to meet the demands of Boeing’s business.

BR&T has worked with its suppliers to help them grow and keep up with its needs. Boeing relies on a network of some 1500 suppliers and partners, with contracts worth more than $400 million a year.

In Australia, BR&T works with universities. The R&DTI helps industries and research organisations work together.

The global market is becoming more competitive. The R&DTI helps Boeing Australia increase its investment in R&D. Boeing wants to encourage more investment in innovation to help the Australian aerospace industry.

The R&DTI has supported the BR&T unit in developing leadership in research areas for the company that can be exploited within Boeing Australia business units and across the enterprise for the Boeing company.

Michael Edwards, General Manager, Boeing Research & Technology

R&DTI Impact Facts

  • Supported Boeing's presence in Australia, the company's largest outside the United States.
  • The R&DTI has helped Boeing invest more money into modernisation.
  • The R&DTI has helped Boeing create more jobs.
  • BR&T’s workforce has grown from 20 employees to 85 across 3 locations in Australia.
  • Boeing relies on a network of some 1500 suppliers and partners, with contracts worth more than $400 million a year.
  • Between 2013 and 2016, BR&T’s R&D tax incentive benefit has been worth millions of dollars.