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Airbus Innovation Days: Future factories will speed up certification

Airbus has, understandably, been concerned by the trend in recent years for certification of new aircraft to take increasingly longer. However, with the A350 the company hopes to reverse the trend and complete certification in one year.

The A350 XWB production line has been the test bed for a number of novel technologies and techniques that the OEM hopes to roll out in its factories in future. 

Speaking at the Airbus Innovation Days event last week (June 16–17), Michel Roboam, SVP of manufacturing engineering, described how Airbus plans to make to change how the company’s factories work over the next 16 years. 

For Airbus the future is in having human-centred, integrated and eco-efficient industrial systems. 

The hope is that by developing more ergonomic, environmentally friendly factories, Airbus can reduce absenteeism, cut logistic costs and waste generation, each by 80 per cent.

New Airbus factories, like the $600m assembly line in Alabama due to come online next year, are likely to feature systems like Flex Track, an automated drilling system that is used at the company’s Saint-Nazaire factory in France. The system eliminates the need for a second machine tool to carry out drilling on airframes and wings, which Airbus believes will improve quality on the assembly line.

Another innovation Airbus is exploring is its humanoid robot, Futurassy, pictured above. Futurassy is being tested at the Airbus plant in Cadiz, Spain, to see if it can help construct airframes and the degree to which it can work with human factory staff. 

In Toulouse, Airbus already uses robotics to help factory workers in building the A350. Developed by RB3D, a robotic exoskeleton is used by workers to complete  jobs on the production line where heavy lifting is required. .

Airbus workers of the future are also set to benefit from more information on the factory floor. 

Augmented reality, which provides a live view of the world supplemented with sound, video or graphics. The company also wants to  provide workers with real-time 3D models that demonstrate aircraft status. Wearable sensors strapped to workers will collect relevant data such as position and speed. This data can then be used by managers to improve the efficiency of production lines, as well as monitor any hold ups in the production process. 

Alongside these novel technologies, Airbus has embarked on an intensive test programme to speed up certification. 

The aircraft’s front section, for example, has undergone 9,823 simulated flights since October 2013, and the central section and tail cone has seen 4,880 flights since March 2014. 

The result has been 70 per cent of certification documents already delivered to EASA with total completion scheduled for summer 2014. EASA has also approved the company’s ETOPS plan. 

Test flights will continue into August, but the first two customer-ready aircraft are heading toward completion. Airbus hopes that schedules like these will become normal with advances in factory production. 

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