Most people associate Boeing with the Seattle area, and for good reason. But the aerospace giant also plays a significant manufacturing role in Oregon, where its work receives less recognition than it should.
One reason for the company’s relatively low profile is the fact that the wholly owned subsidiary that manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) doesn’t carry the Boeing name. Insitu operates on both sides of the Columbia River Gorge near Hood River. It employs about 400 people on the Oregon side, primarily in engineering, engineering support and flight-test activities, according to Rich White, Boeing Government Relations manager. Insitu also uses the Arlington Municipal Airport in Gilliam County for testing.
Insitu’s UAVs are used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) work. The U.S. Coast Guard uses them for drug interdiction and coastal monitoring. The U.S. military uses them for as well, perhaps most notably in 2004, when Insitu’s small ScanEagle UAV supported Marines during the battle of Fallujah in Iraq. According to White, the company also has a contract with the U.S. Department of Interior to provide surveillance during wildfires – something Oregonians certainly can appreciate.
An Oregon manufacturing facility that does carry Boeing’s name has long operated in Gresham, where it employs about 1,100 people. Boeing Gresham serves as the company’s Center of Excellence for complex machining and builds parts used mostly in commercial airplanes, says White. It specializes in machining hard metal such as steel and titanium. The latter is used to join carbon fiber, which is used extensively in modern planes such as the 787.
The Gresham location also features a LEED gold-certified chemical processing facility that applies coatings to metal aircraft parts prior to assembly. The entire Gresham operation covers more than 1 million square feet.
In addition to its manufacturing operations, Boeing is a founding partner of the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center (OMIC), which brings together researchers and industry experts to improve technology – such as hard-metal machining – used by Oregon manufacturers. The collaboration also provides invaluable workforce training, helping Oregonians take advantage of the high wages paid by the state’s manufacturers.
OMIC, based in Scappoose, involves several OBI members as well as Oregon State University, Oregon Institute of Technology and Portland State University. Portland Community College operates the OMIC Training Center. The initiative is modeled on the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center Boeing established about 20 years ago with the University of Sheffield in England.