A holistic approach to aircraft assembly

  • 27-Oct-2013 10:46 EDT
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Bombardier Global 5000/6000 Aerostructures dual fuselage joining in a 65-ft-wide footprint.

OEMs are under increasing pressure to deliver aircraft to market faster and more cost-effectively. Much of the technology is not new. Laser metrology, automated positioning systems, auto drilling and filling systems—all are entering a mature phase in their life cycle after having been in use for at least 15 to 20 years. As a result, in the aircraft automation and tooling arena, this technology is becoming “commoditized.”

The differentiator for automation and tooling service providers is no longer exclusively the technological solution; it must also include the approach, time frame, and cost of the service provided.

Bombardier Aerospace Toronto identified the need to develop and install an updated and enhanced aircraft final assembly line within an existing facility. The area was severely constrained in both height and footprint. The requirement was to be production-ready within a six-month time frame. The company did not have the internal tooling design and build capacity for the project, so it sought external support.

Recognizing that a six-month window was very aggressive—and from some viewpoints, “unachievable”—the immediate selection of an industry automation and tooling service provider was essential.

Bombardier Aerospace issued an RFP that defined “what” the solution needed to achieve to support the aircraft build process, “where” it was to be installed, and “by when.” The RFP did not include the traditional “how,” in essence leaving both the specific definition of each of the automation and tooling solution elements—and the inextricable integration between them—to the solution provider.

AIP Aerospace Odyssey was awarded a performance-based, turnkey, firm-fixed-price contract to deliver an integrated solution. This included automation, tooling, access, and conveyance elements.

The solution provider’s performance-based service delivery model had three critical components: an Agile Methodology, an Advanced Manufacturing Systems Integration approach, and a Performance Management Framework.

For aircraft manufacturing automation and tooling suppliers, the technology in isolation, while essential, is ceasing to be the differentiator. In the advanced manufacturing systems integration approach, it is not enough for a selected supplier to represent “automation only” or “tooling only.” It must be proficient in all the manufacturing systems infrastructure disciplines: aerospace automation, tooling, access, conveyance, and machinery.

It is the "automation and tooling partner" who offers a performance-based and advanced manufacturing systems integration approach that offers the next step-change. The aerospace manufacturing industry is following the automotive industry in this sense.

In the Bombardier case, the “Toronto Bay 2” project was put into production within five months of the purchase order. This is in keeping with faster turnaround times in industry. A decade ago, two years would have been allowed for a solution to be put into production. The solution was designed in such a way that it can be expanded at Bombardier's request. Such an expansion would allow for parts to be loaded into the front of the assembly line while the new tooling and equipment is still in the process of being installed.

In 1990 with the 777, Boeing introduced the concept of “concurrent engineering”; aircraft tool design and tool build began to overlap. The concept is now being extended to the production system, not just tooling and equipment.

The difference becomes the supplier who can act as a “systems integration partner.”

AIP Aerospace Odyssey and BA ensured the delivery of a solution within an order of magnitude lower cost and reduced time frame in comparison with both previous experience and leading industry providers’ competitive bids.

This article is based on SAE technical paper 2013-01-2335 by Leona Krofchak of Bombardier Aerospace and Ronald J. Mack of AIP Aerospace Odyssey.

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