An emphasis on innovation
As one of the world’s leading builders of commercial aircraft, Airbus has an industrial presence that spans the globe.
Starting with its milestone A300 programme, the company has continually used innovation to leverage the skills and know-how of its network of manufacturing locations – resulting in streamlined and efficient production of the company’s full family of jetliners and military airlifters.
Around the world
Airbus’ own manufacturing, production and sub-assembly of parts for Airbus aircraft are distributed among 15 sites in Europe, with jetliner final assembly lines in Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany – complemented by A320 Family production sites in Tianjin, China and Mobile, Alabama.
This global “footprint” was expanded with the company’s A320 Family final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama – which is officially called the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility and began delivering aircraft in 2016.
With a truly worldwide industrial presence, Airbus benefits from the inherent cultural diversity it brings, and is able to be closer to the company’s customers and suppliers – creating an efficient, proactive network for the production and support of its highly successful airliner fleet.
Airbus has implemented a new production organisation in managing the steep and steady ramp-up of industrial activities to meet continued strong demand, while also achieving higher performance levels across the company’s series and development programmes.
This new organisation – which became effective in January 2013 – aims to accomplish the goals through further integration, full cross-functional alignment and even more teamwork in Airbus’ production activities.
On a structural level, the organisation empowers Airbus plants responsible for delivering aircraft components to the individual Airbus final assembly lines, and provides the necessary resources and leverage. In addition, more support will be given to engineering and the supply chain for dealing with day-to-day challenges.
Also expanding Airbus manufacturing efficiency is the company-developed transportation system for airlift of the large, pre-assembled jetliner sections from their production sites to the assembly facilities. The company uses a dedicated fleet of five A300-600ST Super Transporters – nicknamed “Beluga” – which features one of the largest cargo hold area of any civil or military aircraft in service. As Airbus production rates increase across its family of market-leading jetliners, the company is also developing a new “Beluga XL” oversized air transporter, which is based on the A330. The first of five of these aircraft will enter service in 2019, operating in parallel with the existing A300-600ST fleet before the current Beluga’s are progressively retired through 2025.
In addition, Airbus also uses sea/water transportation methods to support its global production network.
Airbus was the first manufacturer to make extensive use of composites and other advanced materials for producing large commercial aircraft, beginning with the A310 jetliner – which entered commercial service in 1983 equipped with a composite-based fin box.
Composites typically are 20 per cent lighter than aluminium, and are known to be more reliable than other traditional metallic materials – leading to reduced aircraft maintenance costs and a lower number of inspections during service. Additional benefits of composite technologies include added strength and superior durability for a longer lifespan.
Airbus pioneered the larger-scale use of composites for aviation over the course of some three decades. For contrast, less than five per cent of the cornerstone A300A310’s total structural weight was made up of composite material during their pioneering production runs; while the percentage has significantly increased for Airbus’ 21st century flagship A380 (almost 25 per cent) and next-generation A350 XWB (53 per cent).
A lean approach
At Airbus sites around the world, the application of lean manufacturing activity – which focuses on achieving the highest throughput with the least inventory – has shortened lead-times and improved efficiency of products and processes. On a larger scale, this approach also has led to standardization of parts and components, and has eased the definition of structure and system interfaces.
Airbus also has a long experience with CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing) techniques, and has developed a host of tools using digital mock-up and e-technology.