Final assembly and tests
A bit of history
Airbus’ initial final assembly line was established in Toulouse, France for the A300/A310 – the two pioneering widebody aircraft that established the company as a world-class supplier of commercial jetliners. In addition to hosting the company’s headquarters, the southern French city was home to a readily available, skilled aerospace workforce. Production flexibility designed into the final assembly line from its inception enabled Airbus to build on the success of the A300 version by using the same assembly jigs and tooling to build the shorter-fuselage, longer-range A310. It enabled slots on the same assembly line to be assigned to either the A300 or A310, depending on market demand.
This built-in flexibility became the foundation for Airbus’ approach of developing families of aircraft that incorporate significant commonality and can be built on a common assembly line.
Building on success: A320 assembly goes global
Toulouse also became home to Airbus’ initial assembly line for the A320 Family, which subsequently was supplemented by capacity at Hamburg, Germany to meet high output demand for Airbus’ best-selling aircraft. Another final assembly line opened in 2008 at Tianjin, China – the first such facility for Airbus to be located outside of Europe, providing a production site within one of the world’s key future air travel markets.
Market proximity was an important element as well in Airbus’ decision to create an A320 Family final assembly line in the United States. It is officially called the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility and is located in Mobile, Alabama, with first deliveries planned during 2016. A320 Family production across the final assembly lines is assigned as follows: Toulouse builds A320s; Hamburg has responsibility for the A318, A319, A320 and A321; Tianjin assembles A319s and A320s; and the new U.S. facility produces A319s, A320s and A321s.
All of the final assembly lines are organised in a similar manner by stations, each performing a specific task in the aircraft’s assembly and systems testing. A320 fuselages arrive at the line in two segments, which are joined to begin the aircraft build-up sequence. The completed, joined fuselage is lifted into a position where the two wings are mated and engine pylons and landing gear fitted.
The A320 Family jetliners then move to a multi-purpose bay for system tests, and the aircraft is readied for cabin installation. This clears the way for the final operations: engine installation, fuel and pressurization tests, painting, engine run-up and flight testing, followed by aircraft acceptance and delivery.
Assembling the Long-range A330/A340
Airbus applied its experience with the A300/A310 and A320 to create a technically advanced, streamlined final assembly line for the A330/A340 long-range family of aircraft, located in a purpose-built facility in Toulouse. Only two final assembly jigs were needed to build up either the twin-engine A330 or the four-engine A340 – with sustained A330 assembly continuing after the A340’s production phase-out.
The A330/A340 FAL also is built around the ‘station’ principal. At Station 40, the aircraft's outer wings are joined to the centre fuselage and wing. This activity is highly automated, using eight robots that are situated on either side of the fuselage and above/below the wing. At Station 35, the jetliner’s three fuselage sections are riveted together, along with installation of the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, landing gear with wheels, and engine pylons. This process is assisted by four robots which move around the fuselage on orbital railways.
The aircraft are then transferred on their own wheels to a large area called Station 30, where four long-range jetliners can be accommodated simultaneously. This is where systems are connected and tested, with ground mechanics conducting some 85 system validations. The mechanics go from aircraft to aircraft in Station 30, rather than having the aircraft move to different positions.
Next, completed A330s are moved outside the final assembly hanger for fuel and pressurization systems testing. The aircraft’s engines are then installed and its cabin is fitted before painting, engine run-up and flight testing, all of which precede aircraft acceptance and delivery.
The A380 final assembly line
Toulouse is the home as well for Airbus’ A380 final assembly line – a massive facility that provides a space of 150,000 square metres for the flagship double-deck jetliner. The A380 assembly process takes place on a single combined station (a section of the assembly line dedicated to performing a specific task) where all operations except for engine installation are carried out. Representing over one third of an aircraft’s value, engines are among the last components to be fitted to the A380 in order to reduce inventory cost.
When all sections have been positioned, a tool jig – an enormous scaffold – surrounds the aircraft for the assembly process: junction of the three fuselage sections, the wings, the horizontal and vertical stabilisers, engine pylons, landing gear and electric racks.
The aircraft is entirely assembled at this first station, apart from the engines which will be installed at the second work station, known as Station 30. Once assembly is complete, the aircraft is towed outside of the hall and back into one of the three modular stations to undergo a series of general tests.
A series of general tests are carried out at three identical “Station 30s”: electric and hydraulic systems; onboard computer; mobile parts; and landing gear. Fuel tanks are also tested for leaks; finally, the A380’s four engines are put in place. Airbus offers customers a choice of two engine types. The aircraft is towed to the south of the Lagardère assembly hall for engine testing at the run-up facility. Then it performs its first test flight.
A modern facility for the A350 XWB
Airbus’ newest final assembly line in Toulouse for the A350 XWB was officially unveiled in October 2012. Designed to have the lowest environmental footprint of any final assembly line ever built by Airbus, this 72,000-square-metre, L-shaped facility houses the initial stages of final assembly, involving the join-up of fuselage and wings. It also includes 19,000 square metres of annexes (offices, workshops, logistics areas).
A streamlined aircraft assembly process for the A350 XWB allows teams to work in parallel, reducing the time from start of final assembly to aircraft delivery by 30 per cent. Additionally, this production centre was constructed near the existing A330 production facilities in order to provide resources optimisation.
With a new lighting system, roof-mounted photovoltaic solar panels, translucent panels and glass arched roofs, the assembly facility is capable of producing the equivalent of more than 50 per cent of its own energy.
Further increasing its status as the “greenest” final assembly line ever built by Airbus, many of the materials present on this site were recycled during the construction work. The taxiway and aircraft parking zone where the building is constructed were planed off, crushed and re-used in the new building, thus reducing the volume of materials brought in from quarries. Altogether, around 10,000 cubic metres ofmaterials were recycled, thereby significantly reducing lorry traffic (nearly 1,000 fewer lorries).
When the A350 XWB programme reaches its full production rate, the number of employees working on this site will be around 1,500.
Focus on: A350 XWB assembly process
The A350 XWB industrial process is optimised from start to finish. Build-up of this new-generation jetliner’s major fuselage sections is completed in a streamlined workflow that moves in steps through several stations within the integration build.
After the cabin’s galleys and crew rest compartments are move into an aircraft while at Station 59, all is ready for the fuselage join-up at Station 50 – which has movable jigs to accommodate the A350 XWB at this position on the final assemble line. Installation of the front crew rest and rear galley also is finalised, while the nose landing gear is added to the fuselage.
From here an aircraft is moved to Station 40, where wings and vertical/horizontal tails are attached – along with certain other airframe parts, including the landing gear and engine pylons. While the wings and tails are installed, Station 40 also sees cabin interior activity involving the installation of cabin side-walls, overhead storage racks, carpets, floor surfaces and partitions.
After its transfer to Station 30, the aircraft is subjected to ground tests – with mechanical, electrical and avionics systems validated in configurations similar to in-flight conditions. Assembly work at this station includes the installation of seats and their cabling, the positioning of door linings, cargo compartment linings, partitions and galley equipment, along with the placement of final structural elements such as the aircraft’s belly fairing, landing gear doors and wing leading edge.