Airbus is using a new transparent polyester film to protect the delicate cladding of fuselage sections during assembly. The film, which is 125 micrometres thick, covers the joints of the fuselage segments before they are drilled, positioned and riveted. Following successful trials, the film will be used at Airbus' Hamburg, Germany facility, and similar approaches to fuselage protection have been launched at two sites in France.
A new film to protect the skin of fuselage sections from damage caused during structural assembly is being used for the first time by the long-range programme at the Hamburg site.
The transparent polyester film, which is extremely thin, protects the delicate cladding of the fuselage sections from damage. It has been used in structural assembly at the Hamburg site for some months now. Before the joints of the fuselage sections are drilled, positioned and riveted, they are covered with a 125µm (micrometer or a thousandth of a millimetre) thin film. This provides almost perfect protection for the aluminium cladding from rotating drilling chips or contaminants on the drilling tools.
The method is already used by the automotive industry but the films used are not suitable for use in aircraft construction because they cannot be machined. There was a need for a material that would be both process compatible and provide sufficient resistance to damage.
After testing a large variety of films, Airbus engineers selected a material which does not stretch easily when drilled so it does not wind itself around the drilling tool causing problems. This ensures that holes can be properly drilled without fraying and that the rivets can be installed through the film. The film allows residue-free removal and does not affect subsequent surface protection processes.
After a six-month trial at a specific station in the long-range hangar, the film was found to reduce the average cladding damage rate by 70 per cent. It also provided ten times better protection from marks by contaminants. Following its successful trials, the film will now be used at structural assembly stations in Hamburg. The first practical experiences are positive and this technique can also be used elsewhere. Similar approaches to protect fuselage sections have already been launched at the Airbus sites in Méaulte and Saint-Nazaire.