Airbus shifting to pulse-line assembly for A320 wings

Airbus is shifting its A320-family wing production concept away from static assembly to a semi-automated pulse-line to improve efficiency ahead of transition to A320neo production.

The change is being introduced at the airframer’s UK plant at Broughton, which supplies wings to the entire Airbus range.

Airbus is producing A320s at a monthly rate of 42 aircraft but has committed to raise this to 46 next year and hike it again, to 50, in 2017.

Chief operating officer Tom Williams, speaking during a briefing in Toulouse, said that such rates were not envisaged when the A320 wing plant was originally designed.

“If you look at the structural build of the wing box, you’d find something akin to what you’d have found in a shipyard many years ago,” he says.

This static system requires multiple components to be moved to a jig, where they are assembled by several personnel. Airbus has accommodated rate increases through a “risk-averse” duplication of the system, says Williams, “until you have 18 jigs all doing the same thing”.

“Clearly what we want to do now is to go to a flow-line,” he says, adding that Airbus is preparing this for 2017 operations.

“We’re going to move to a full flow-line with intelligent application of robots, to take out a lot of the heavy manual drilling and integration problems.

“We think that’s going to be a very exciting concept in terms of reducing our manufacturing lead-times and giving us some big improvements in quality.”

Airbus is aiming to maintain production rates during the transition to the re-engined A320neo, which is scheduled to enter service this year.

“We don’t have the luxury of ramping down and ramping back up,” says Williams.

He says the manufacturer is already performing “run at rate” testing – notably for newly-designed parts for the A320neo, such as the pylon – to simulate the full production rates which will be demanded.