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​Subaru gears up for 777X with eye on efficiency, cost

Subaru Aerospace Company has moved up the value chain with its center wing-box work for the Boeing 777X, as it seeks to further improve efficiency and manage costs.

Shoichiro Tozuka, president of Subaru’s aerospace unit, notes that the aluminum/titanium wing box that the company produces for the 777-8 and -9 is considerably heavier than that it builds for the legacy 777 programme.

“The 777X will carry more people and have a greater payload,” he says. “While its center wing-box is of similar size to that of the 777-300ER it is heavier with more reinforcement in the wings.”

FlightGlobal spoke with Tozuka recently in Tokyo.

The company’s new Handa facility completed the first 777X wing-box in February. In addition to producing the wing-box the company also joins it with the aircraft’s main landing gear wheel wells. Whereas with the legacy 777 the company produced what Tozuka calls a “blank box,” which still required additional work before the wing join, for the 777X it delivers a wing-box ready for wing attachment.

He adds that the new wing-box uses considerably more titanium than the previous 777 wing-box. “We use a lot of titanium parts, which we have experience with from 787 center wing-box production.”

While the composite 787 wing-box can be transported from Nagoya to Everett, Washington by the 747 Dreamlifter, 777 wing-boxes can only be transported by sea. Tozuka estimates that the wingbox is probably the single biggest item delivered to Boeing's production line.

Tozuka remarks that there is an ongoing work to improve efficiency, both within Subaru and through its supply chain. This involves regular “kaizen” workshops, which aim to improve the productivity of both Subaru and and suppliers.

“The focus is not just a specific process but the entire factory,” he says. It covers everything from raw materials, cutting, painting, riveting, shipping, and even what happens with leftover materials, such as valuable titanium tips.

“It's a long term activity between us and each supplier. We try to exchange information between each other, and also between suppliers so that we can level up the total power of the supply chain.”

When asked about whether Japan’s aerospace industry should be consolidated, Tozuka is dubious. He notes that there is already substantial cooperation between major players such Subaru, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, and Shinmaywa on major programmes, particularly in the military space.

“In small production areas such as helicopters we can do it on our own, so sometimes we compete [with other Japanese aerospace firms], but for fighter aircraft, cargo airplanes, and big projects that require investment and programme risk, then you'd better share. We setup one company to join, and everyone gets together.”

In regard to futuristic programmes Subaru is very interested in airborne urban mobility. Tozuka points out that Subaru Aerospace Company has a strong pedigree in designing aerospace products and understands processes such as certification. This gibes well with Subaru’s car business, which has strong credentials in mass production and marketing private vehicles.

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