Final assembly lines
Establishing a “home base”
Airbus’ initial final assembly line was established in Toulouse, France for the A300/A310 – which was home to a readily-available, skilled aerospace workforce, and as well as the company’s headquarters location. Production flexibility designed into the final assembly line from its inception enabled Airbus to expand the success of its initial A300 version by using the same assembly jigs and tooling to build the shorter-fuselage, longer-range A310.
This allowed slots on the same assembly line to be assigned for either the A300 or A310 depending on market demand, and it created the foundation for Airbus’ approach of developing families of aircraft that incorporate significant commonality and can be built on a common assembly line.
Toulouse also became home to Airbus’ initial assembly line for the A320 Family, which subsequently was supplemented by a second facility at Hamburg, Germany to meet the high output demands for this best-selling jetliner. They later were joined by a third installation in Tianjin, China – the first Airbus assembly line to be located outside of Europe. The Toulouse final assembly line builds A320s; Hamburg has responsibility for the A318, A319 and A321; while Tianjin assembles A320s and A321s.
A320 fuselages arrive at these final assembly lines in two segments, which are joined at Station 41 – beginning the aircraft build-up sequence. The completed fuselage is lifted into duplicated positions, designated Station 40 and 35, where the two wings are mated, along with the integration of engine pylons and landing gear.
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 pressurisation tests, painting, engine run-up and flight testing, followed by aircraft acceptance and delivery.
Experience with the A300/A310 and A320 was applied by Airbus to create a technically-advanced, streamlined final assembly line for the A330/A340, which is located in a purpose-built facility at Toulouse – where only two final assembly jigs are needed to build up either the twin-engine A330 or the four-engine A340 version.
Station 40 is where the A330/A340 outer wings are assembled 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 that move around the fuselage on orbital railways.
Preparing for final operations
The aircraft are then transferred on their own wheels to a large area called Station 30, where four jetliners can be accommodated simultaneously, side-by-side. This is where systems are connected and tested, with ground mechanics conducting some 85 system validations. The mechanics go from aircraft-to-aircraft in the Station 30 area, rather than having the aircraft move to different positions.
Completed A330/A340s are then moved outside of the final assembly hanger, where fuel and pressurisation systems are tested. Final operations in the assembly process include installation of engines and the cabin interior; painting; engine run-up and flight testing, followed by aircraft acceptance and delivery.
Toulouse also is the home to Airbus’ A380 assembly line – a massive 490 metre-long by 250-metre facility that provides 150,000 square metres of assembly area for the flagship double-deck jetliner.
The newest Airbus final assembly line is now taking shape at Toulouse for the A350 XWB. Conceived with eco-efficiency in mind, this 74,000-square metre factory will house the initial stages of final assembly for the A350 XWB, involving the join-up of fuselage and wings. A streamlined aircraft assembly process for the A350 will allow teams to work in parallel, reducing the time from start of final assembly to aircraft delivery by 30 per cent. Aircraft testing and cabin equipping then will be completed in the nearby A330/340 facility.