Toray Composites signs tentative $8.6 billion deal with Boeing

A Japanese manufacturer with a major plant in Pierce County has signed a memorandum of agreement with Boeing to supply composite material for its new 777X long-range twin jet.

Toray Industries of Tokyo and Boeing said the new agreement when finalized as a firm contract will mean some $8.6 billion worth of new business for Toray. The agreement extends by 10 years the existing agreement to supply composite raw material to the aerospace manufacturer.

Boeing plans to build the composite wings for the 777X at a new production facility adjacent to its Everett wide-bodied jet plant. Groundbreaking for the new wing plant occurred this fall. Those 777X wings are longer than the metal wings of the present-generation 777 to provide greater fuel economy.

The 777X is the next generation of Boeing’s popular 777 twin-engine, long-range jetliner. The new jet, which will enter commercial service in 2020, will be larger and more fuel efficient than the present 777. The new jet will be assembled in Everett.

Toray is a longtime Boeing supplier. The Japanese company provides all of the composite tape or prepreg used to build Boeing’s composite-bodied jetliner, the 787 Dreamliner.

The Japanese company produces much of that prepreg at a plant in Frederickson near Boeing’s fabrication plant. Boeing, among other things, produces composite tails for the 777 at that plant as well as vertical composite tails for the 787.

Toray built a prepreg plant in Frederickson in 1993. The company has expanded the plant several times since. The latest expansion construction began last January. That project will create a fifth production line at the plant when it opens in 2016. Toray said it expects to employ some 600 workers at Frederickson when the new production line opens. The plant’s payroll is now in excess of 400 workers.

Toray representatives were unavailable for comment Monday on whether the new contract will cause changes at the Frederickson operation. Toray has announced plans to build a new composites plant in South Carolina near Boeing’s Charleston 787 assembly line.

Prepreg is a combination of composite fibers, an epoxy resin and a curing agent created in tape-like rolls. The prepreg is frozen after its manufacture to keep it from curing. Composite structures are created by placing layers of prepreg over a metal mold in the shape of desired end product. That mold and the prepreg is then baked in a giant oven called an autoclave where it forms one strong, lightweight solid piece when it is removed from the mold.

In addition to the new production contract, Boeing said it plans to work closely with Toray to develop more efficient ways to produce and fabricate composite structures and to develop new uses for the lightweight material.

Washington state in recent years has become a center for composite manufacture and development. In addition to Toray, German auto manufacturer BMW has built a composite material production plant in Washington near Moses Lake. BMW is using composites in many of its fuel-saving vehicles.

Toray’s Frederickson plant includes a composite materials research center, which investigates new uses and production methods for the material.