The Airbus Hamburg factory, the main center for single-aisle production and the lead facility for building the A321 and A321neo, is in the eye of that storm. A combination of factors has made 2018 “a most difficult year for single-aisles,” Williams concedes. But as 2018 draws to a close, he believes the worst is over and that lessons learned from the production problems will help smooth the way ahead. Of key importance is understanding the extent to which it can automate production of legacy aircraft such as the A320.
“We were probably a bit overambitious” in applying automation to an existing aircraft that “was not designed with automation in mind,” Williams says. He notes that Airbus needs to be realistic and “pragmatic” about how it innovates its production system in the future—at a time when the group is aiming to become a lot more digital. While automation will become cheaper and provide benefits even on legacy aircraft programs, Airbus’ recent troubles highlight that the next big step can happen only with a new product that incorporates more of a “design for manufacturing” approach.
It correlates with what we were told earlier, that resources were being moved away from A321+/++ and towards "design for manufacturing".
As for the XFW storm center, one issue is a new automated line for fuselage production:
Aside from external factors, Airbus generated many of its own problems. Significant changes to its in-house production system created far more issues than anticipated, and that is where the automation question comes into play.
Airbus has started assembling section 15/21 (the center fuselage) and section 17 (center-rear fuselage) in a new automated line in Hamburg in hangar 245. Meant to deliver significant cost reduction and quality improvement simultaneously, the move has been beset with “teething problems.” Robotic tools, among other factors, created major internal delays. The line has 12 robots and six automated guided vehicles—operation of which has proved to be “challenging.”
To counteract this, Airbus put in place two manual backup stations that will likely continue to operate well into 2020. And 600 people were hired for narrowbody production to boost the recovery and ramp-up efforts.
Another is the new FAL:
The fourth final assembly line in Hamburg, phased in from late 2017, was another tough challenge, Williams says. While the line is “a big step forward,” as it no longer features big steel jigs and has “more agile systems,” it had its share of problems, too. Among them, precise maneuvering of the sections was more difficult than anticipated.
In order to be able to move around the aircraft within the physical confines of the building, which provides one-third less space than the legacy system, Airbus got rid of all fixed jigs. Every jig is on wheels and can be placed anywhere in the hangar formerly used in the A380 program. The aircraft components are transported on mobile tooling platforms (MTP). There are three pairs of MTPs for fuselage sections and two pairs for wings.
The stations now use a higher degree of automation and robotics. About 80% of the 2,800 holes for the circumferential joint between the fuselage sections are now drilled by two robots; manual labor is greatly reduced.
Since 777 is going to a MTP system for both 777 and 777x, they should pay attention to these issues.
The article goes on to mention the shift of production is now shifting towards A321 with 25% now and 40% in the future, and these planes tend to more often have "richer specifications" with 2 or 3 class cabins, which add time and complexity to the process.
It says that Airbus Cabin Flex A321 has 50% higher production workload relative to A320, due to more over wing exits, relocation of the existing exits, movement of the rear pressure bulkhead, etc which makes all the wiring runs different.
And to finish off:
Further challenges lie ahead. Airbus plans to produce about 15 “heads of versions” (the first aircraft for a new customer) for the A321neo this year. That number is going double in 2019 and stay at that level for some time. All will be assembled in Hamburg.Williams is sanguine the increase will work because the rate of design reuse across the various new versions is becoming much higher.
As we say on a.net, these are classy kinds of problems to have.