Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is boosting efficiency through increased automation and moving manpower intensive work to Southeast Asia.
A major programme for which is MHI is gearing up is the Boeing 777X. A key part of its work on the programme are the type’s aft fuselage panels.
As opposed to the MHI’s 777-300ER panel production work, the company will use more automation and artificial intelligence for the 777X, says Keisuke Hirose, head of Commercial Aviation Systems at the company.
Whereas the company produced aft panels for the 777-300ER using a fixed jig and considerable manpower, for the new type it has developed a production system called M-PAL – Multi-Panel Pulse Assembly Line.
This includes four major positions: skin positioning assembly, panel assembly, frame assembly, and inspection.
The entire process requires less manpower. AI makes inspection work more efficient.
The company has produced a small number of shipsets for the 777X, but this will grow as the programme ramps up. The increased volume of 777X aft panels will offer increased learning opportunities for the AI inspection system.
“At each position we monitor progress, with robots inserting thousands of fasteners,” he says. “We can check each machine, and the data helps us isolate problems very quickly.”
On another major programme, wings for the Boeing 787, the company has ramped up to 12 shipsets for month in line with Boeing’s production increases for the type. One innovation has been the automatic painting of the wing prior to shipment.
“[787 wing-production] is doing very well and is very stable,” he says. “Next January, this will grow to 14 shipsets per month.”
Hirose is also very interested in bidding for work on Boeing’s prospective New Mid-Market Airplane (NMA) should this project move forward.
“I intend to join the NMA programme,” he says. “I have strong confidence in our ability to contribute to NMA. We are waiting.”
Another element in the company’s effort to reduce cost is moving labor-intensive work to a unit in Vietnam. The company employs 300 at a factory near Vietnam doing work on the inboard flap of the 737. This work is very hard to automate, but require too much labor input for effective production in Japan. In addition, MHI produces doors for the 777 programme in Vietnam.