"Fifty-fifty” doesn’t only mean “an even split” if you’re talking with people from UTC Aerospace Systems’ Aerostructures business. To them, the phrase is shorthand for industry leadership and the fact that it has designed and/or been the manufacturer on more than 50 engine nacelle programmes over the first 50 years following the dawn of the jet age.
“We take a great deal of pride in the depth and breadth of our nacelle systems portfolio, which cuts across large commercial, military and regional segments,” says Marc Duvall, president of Aerostructures, which became part of United Technologies Aerospace Systems about a year ago through the merger of United Technologies Corporation and Goodrich Corporation. “We are equally proud of the relationships we’ve built with major airframers and engine makers. Whether with the engine manufacturers and Airbus on the A350 XWB and A320neo, or with Boeing on the 787 Dreamliner, Bombardier for the CSeries, Mitsubishi on its regional jet, or Embraer on its Second Generation E-Jets, the way in which we work together has evolved to become tighter, more integrated — and better for all concerned.”
One good example of that is the A350 XWB. The Chula Vista, California-based Aerostructures business was chosen in 2005 to provide the nacelle system for the A350, and again in 2007 when the redesigned aircraft became the A350 XWB to be powered by Rolls-Royce’s Trent XWB engine. Even before both contract awards, Aerostructures was asked to participate in the planemaker’s plateau process. Charlie Johnston, now director of Aerostructures’ Aftermarket Services Commercial Business, was program director for both platforms at the time.
“The plateau phase starts before contract award and is designed to jointly evaluate concepts that might feature on the platform that Airbus is planning to launch. It includes key performance characteristics such as weight, noise attenuation and drag through technology insertion. There was an overriding objective to make sure we had optimised those elements in our proposal at the aircraft level in order to offer a nacelle that was truly integrated within the propulsion system,” Johnston says. “We recognised that since we hadn’t been involved in a new platform with Airbus for a long time, it was important to interface closely with them to develop solutions that were of value at the aircraft level, as well to strengthen our relationship with them.”
Laurent Bèfre, from the team in Toulouse - where Aerostructures supports legacy Airbus programmes such as the A320 with
nacelle and engine integration - was lead engineer on the A350 XWB nacelle plateau.
“Three or four people from Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Aerostructures met daily to work together on specific items, usually related to integration. Such informal meetings took place in front of a design workstation using 3-D modelling software,” Bèfre recalls. “Concurrently, another 10 people representing the same stakeholders met on a weekly basis to focus on specifics of the integration. Together, this system provided for greater and more productive interactivity between parties. It was faster than in the past, enabling an immediacy in sharing information and real-time problem resolution.”
That early face-to-face communication was not only vital to the integrated aircraft-engine-nacelle approach for the A350 XWB; it also laid the foundation for the tripartite manner of working together that continues on the programme today, according to Aerostructures’ current A350 XWB program manager, Chris Smith.
“The plateau is a much more structured process with ‘toll gates’ associated with the process and timeline, which early on drove the team toward making recommendations and conclusions versus the traditional technical trade study effort. It set the stage for how we’ve engaged since,” Smith explains. “We use as much technology as possible on a day-to-day basis to continue that real-time approach. For instance, we use web meetings to look at documents at the same time and thereby eliminate ambiguity from our reviews. We have daily calls with Airbus to work plans, tasks and activities and action items. We have electronic digital mock-ups that are updated and shared with our customer on a regular basis.”
Smith adds that the collaboration in the plateau had another benefit: strengthening the relationships between Airbus, Aerostructures and Roll-Royce. “Operating under this new standard for working with Airbus is something that we at Aerostructures found very useful. Working alongside one another — either physically or virtually — to find the best solution to meet the performance objectives of the aircraft enables us all to achieve the optimal solution at the propulsion system level,” he notes.
Final assembly of the nacelle system and integration of the A350 XWB nacelles with the engine is taking place in Toulouse adjacent to Airbus’ final assembly line. The work is done in a brand-new facility dedicated exclusively to the A350 XWB that marked its opening earlier this month — and where Aerostructures applied a lesson learned of its own from the A320 programme. Engines and nacelles for the single-aisle aircraft produced in Toulouse are currently integrated on an innovative moving line that the business introduced in 2009.
“The A320 moving line was based on benchmarking from the automobile industry and enabled significant productivity gains. Given this achievement, it seemed obvious and logical to extend it to the A350 XWB thrust reverser,” said Philippe Didier, programs and purchasing manager for Aerostructures European operations in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany.
“This new moving line will use lessons learned for the A320, but will also be different in that the engine build-up (EBU) portion of the nacelle assembly will be handled separately from the thrust reverser moving line. There will be four EBU stations with the Trent XWB engines resting on pedestals, providing full access to the engines,” says Didier. “We will apply what we learned on the A320 moving line to organise the A350 XWB thrust reverser line. We also examined how best to optimise logistics for the supply of detail parts to be installed. That will mean extending the local activity to outside suppliers for proper packaging, as well as scheduling the arrival of parts in a just-in-time manner.”
Toulouse will also see the insertion of more technology into the manufacturing process for the A350 XWB nacelles, the largest that Aerostructures has ever designed and built. A volumetric robotic cell consisting of three articulating robots run by software custom-tailored for Aerostructures will play a major role. Two of the robots will drill and countersink holes needed for attaching beams and other components featured in the nacelle system’s inner fixed structure (IFS). A third will install fasteners that are used to attach heat blankets and wire harnesses to the IFS. The cell is currently in test at Aerostructures’ Chula Vista plant with regular visits from Toulouse employees who will make it operational once the cell is shipped to its new home.
Painting of nacelles, which sometimes have intricate livery designs, is a painstaking process. For the A350 XWB, new and “greener” methods will be introduced.
“Here again, lessons learned from legacy programmes have enabled us to design the paint area in an optimised way. Special platforms and tooling for the nacelle cowls with their huge dimensions will be used,” says Didier. “The paint booth itself includes a state-of-the-art system to regulate temperature and hygrometry throughout the year when external weather conditions and humidity vary. The infrared curing tunnel will use small microwave units in a more environmentally friendly approach.”
Another area where Aerostructures is applying intense effort is post-delivery support. Airbus set the unprecedented goal of having its new widebody fully mature at entry-into-service (EIS) next year. The maturity effort also traces its roots back to the Airbus plateau process.
“Our Aftermarket Service team was involved from the beginning, and we’ve remained involved with the A350 XWB production value stream in the design process so that we can embed our lessons learned on the product,” says Ed Lucero, Aerostructures’ Aftermarket Technical Services, A350 XWB manager. “That allows us to ensure that our legacy experience is ‘baked into’ the reliability of the product.”
The Aftermarket team currently supports about 700 airlines with nacelle spare parts, consultation, rotable assets, and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services available either on-demand or through tailored support agreements through its ‘Prime Solutions’ suite of services. Experience gained through design, manufacture and support of dozens of prior nacelle systems comes into play.
“The field problem analysis we conduct on legacy issues allow us a better understanding of new products going forward, whether that’s material or purely design, form, fit and function. On the A350 XWB, Aftermarket Services is involved in the signature cycle for engineering, which helps ensure that issues experienced in the past don’t reappear,” notes Lucero. “And we tap into our propriety Lessons Learned database, along with our global Customer Support Log, to help us eliminate known issues prior to the aircraft entering service.”
The Aftermarket team is also working to ensure that all the necessary manuals are ready before Airbus delivers the first A350 XWB to launch customer Qatar Airways in 2014.
“We’re hard at work on the service repair manual, the aircraft maintenance manual that is used for ‘remove and installs’, and the component maintenance manual (CMM), which covers parts and components that need to be removed and repaired ‘on the bench’ that are needed to return the aircraft back to service,” says Lucero. “For the first time, we’ve taken those three manuals and looked at each and every task associated with them from start to finish. The aircraft maintenance manual alone has about 9,000 lines of tasks. We’ve spanned all the associated tasks from the right, with an eye on the immovable entry-into-service date. Our work breakdown structure allows us to both track exactly where we are today as well as to look at what we would need to do if any deviations come along.”
Using an integrated propulsion system approach on the A350 XWB has benefits well beyond that groundbreaking programme. UTC Aerospace Systems’ Aerostructures business was able to leverage its experience on the programme into the plateaus for the A320neo (new engine option). Aerostructures was awarded the contract to provide the nacelle system for the Pratt & Whitney (P&W) ‘PurePower’ 1100G engine in March 2011 for the single-aisle airplane, which is scheduled to enter into service in 2015. (P&W is part of UTC Propulsion & Aerospace Systems.) In fact, the A350 XWB team worked as internal consultants to the A320neo team during the plateau.
While the integrated approach of the A350 XWB plateau process was new to Aerostructures nearly 10 years ago, it is now emblematic of the way the leading nacelle company works — and will continue to work — with Airbus.
“I cannot envision a better approach to delivering a fully integrated propulsion package to Airbus. Ultimately, it’s about producing the highest-quality nacelle system that meets all their performance requirements and is greener through its contributions to fuel efficiency and noise reduction,” concludes Duvall. “This programme has built on the strong working relationships we’ve nurtured with Airbus over the years. The rapid, open communication between us allows us to focus on delivering them optimal value for the A350 XWB, the A320neo — and future platforms.”