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June 26, 2019

Is This the Future of Aircraft Assembly?

When Airbus was looking to increase their production capacity for their A320 final assembly line (FAL) in a new 4th line in Hamburg, they couldn’t simply replicate the system already in place at their other aircraft assembly site in Hamburg — or at those in Mobile, Tianjin and Toulouse.

Why? 

For one, the new FAL needed to be up and running quickly. It also had to fit into a hangar that was divided in half by a giant partition wall, each side of which was just wide enough to pass a fuselage through. 

While these constraints may seem like a burden — Airbus treated them like an opportunity. 

A320 FAL had been basically unchanged since the 1980s. It necessitated heavy foundations and hard iron jigs that simply could not keep up with modern production rates. Now, at the new FAL, there was a chance to significantly reduce the moving and positioning of parts — an incredibly time-consuming aspect of aircraft assembly. 

Eckart Frankenberger, vice-president of manufacturing strategy at Airbus, compared the new approach to the ergonomic work environment of a surgeon: Every tool, every piece of material, every consumable and every aircraft part, is delivered straight to the point of use in a 3 meter radius of the operator when they need it. 

By getting the positioning of everything right the first time around, the need for manual adjustments and rework down the line are greatly reduced. In short, the new approach provides a vast improvement over the trial-and-error, test-and-adjust methodology that has defined aircraft assembly from the beginning. 

For a closer look at the future of aircraft assembly, check out this article from Aerospace Manufacturing Magazine: Like aircraft assembly but a bit more Zen

About Aerospace Manufacturing

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