The concept of "light" final assembly for airliners - where the bulk of the aircraft production effort is carried out upstream, leaving little more required at the line than the "bolting together" of subassemblies that are delivered by air - was adopted by Airbus when it was created almost 40 years ago. As well as being an efficient way to build aircraft, it also ensured that all the national boundaries within the consortium's partners were observed from a workshare perspective.

Boeing had, until the 787, followed a more traditional build method. It placed its supply contracts tactically, but much of the build process still took place under its own roofs, and primarily nearby the assembly lines.

That all changed with the Dreamliner, when Boeing went much further than its rival had ever considered. A fleet of 747 "Dreamlifters" has been built to deliver large "pre-stuffed" sections from a team of international suppliers to the line in Everett. But we now know that while the idea was sound, the sheer size and speed of the transition was far too ambitious.

A350 production facility
 © Airbus

And the adjustments Airbus made to its production process for the A380 have had dire consequences - it is still struggling to ramp up output some five years after it first began assembling the giants.

With these recent pitfalls in mind, the European airframer has devised its blueprint for building airliners efficiently and flexibly in the 21st century. For the A350, national boundaries within the EADS empire have less influence than ever in an Airbus production map. And while half the XWB will be built by external partners (some will remain under Airbus's ownership in the near term), the airframer has put controls in place to ensure that any maturity issues within its worldwide supply chain do not blight its production ramp-up, as they have for its rival.

So on paper the A350 production set-up looks as though it has hit the mark. The challenge Airbus now faces is to ensure that it can turn sound theory into good working practice.


Source: Flight International