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PARIS: Resolving 'paradox' key to smooth A321XLR integration

Airbus is striving to ensure that introduction of the new A321XLR does not further complicate a production flow which has already been experiencing hitches as a result of previous substantial modifications to the A321neo.

Executive vice-president of engineering Jean-Brice Dumont tells FlightGlobal that the manufacturer needs to address a design-production conflict which accompanies the twinjet's evolution.

"The challenge when you introduce a new version, you have a paradox of a stable definition [benefiting smooth production] while, at the same time, modifying the aircraft," he says.

Airbus is facing this difficulty as it seeks to ease production bottlenecks with the A321neo while increasing output to 60 A320-family aircraft per month.

This has been complicated by the development of the reconfigured A321neo fuselage as well as the long-range A321LR version, which requires more complex installations as a result of switches in single-aisle operational deployment away from short-haul routes.

Airbus chief operating officer Michael Schoellhorn tells FlightGlobal that these adaptations effectively amount to 30% more work on the A321neo, all of which has to be aligned with production takt times and other considerations.

"We're victims of our own success," he says, pointing out that single-aisle production procedures have had to evolve far from original targets.

He says the company is "close" to achieving the monthly rate of 60 but says "more stability" is needed.

Schoellhorn admits the delivery situation for the A321neo is "not going to be stellar this year" but he is confident that the airframer will have a stable operation in 2020.

"Single-aisles were designed in 2D," he says. "You can't go back and redo it all."

But Airbus is using "targeted" and "surgical" techniques through its shift to a digital design, manufacturing and services strategy to address "pain points", he states.

This DDMS effort represents a transition from sequential development processes to parallel co-design measures, bringing cross-functional teams together in the same room.

"People have done a good job," says Schoellhorn.

Airbus is intending to use its experience with the A321neo line and the new techniques to ease the development of the A321XLR, notably the implementation of the rear centre tank which will enhance fuel capacity and extend range.

Jean-Brice Dumont says the use of digital techniques – to check tolerances in the fuselage, for example – will allow industrial and design work will go "hand-in-hand" and ensure "minimal disruption" to the production line.

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