Shorts of Belfast is a company with an impressive history. Bombardier acquired this company in 1989, adding to its growing base of aerospace expertise. The Belfast operation is impressive. It has 5,000 employees and more than a century of aviation experience. Indeed, Shorts is the largest manufacturer in Northern Ireland generating 10% of the region’s manufacturing exports on its own. Bombardier’s investment in the operation is almost £1.6bn since 1989 and an additional £520m investment is under way to support the CSeries wing production. Shorts is Bombardier‘s center of excellence for fuselages, nacelles, wings, composites and after-market support.
Northern Ireland has a history of social unrest. But Bombardier seems to have bridged that issue in the true Canadian way. The company has managed to develop its people – it has an extensive apprenticeship program. Fully 95% of its employees have formal qualifications, of these 30% university degree level or above and 65% diploma/skilled level or other qualifications. The company has the largest modern apprenticeship program in Ireland and is a big investor in people – £145m invested in training since 1989. The impact of this cannot be understated. Bombardier is doing amazing things in an area that needs skilled jobs. Here’s an example: In Belfast Bombardier invests 2% of profits in community and support employee volunteering. So its not just “feel good”, the company is putting real money into the community and people.
The outcome is that the Shorts plant is able to play an increasingly more important role within Bombardier. For example, take a look at this Lear 85 wing. The ability to develop and build this structure is what enabled the plant to get involved with the CSeries wing. There are a number of lessons learned from the Lear 85 wing that are being deployed in the CSeries wing.
The Belfast operation is responsible for the design, manufacture and integration of the advanced composite wings for the CS100 and CS300, including flight control surfaces and high-lift systems. The primary structural components of the wings will be produced using a unique Resin Transfer Infusion (RTI) process that has been developed by Bombardier’s Belfast engineers. This is a clever process that uses fewer, thicker layers of composite which speeds up manufacturing while being no more heavy than a thin, more layer approach. In fact, this approach is part of why Bombardier selected the Belfast team for the CSeries wing work.
Shorts is currently 90% through the planned test program. The learning process
from this is reflected in the final wing designs – and regular discussions and meetings with the certification authorities (DOT/FAA) is underway with approval of the methodology and compliance with requirements plus detailed briefings on manufacturing process and controls and measures in
place. In short, the process is real and executed as planned.
These four jigs are the first of ten, one per wing (left and right). The jigs will allow for a efficient wing production. Michael Ryan, VP and GM, Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast explained “The jigs are highly automated and will allow us to control the assembly of the wings with a high degree of precision. We already installed a specially designed assembly jig to produce a pre-production wing technology demonstrator, and are now applying what we have learned from this to the actual production assembly jigs. We are confident that, working with our suppliers, we have implemented a tooling process that meets our high production standards.”
Last summer, the Shorts facility successfully completed the ultimate load test on the CSeries aircraft composite pre-production wing, replicating 150% of the most severe forces the wing is ever likely to experience. The pre-production wing is part of the overall complex research and development program that Bombardier has undertaken to ‘prove out’ the new technology, manufacturing and assembly processes it is applying to the composite wing.
The visit demonstrated that Bombardier’s plant in Belfast is capable of the task lying ahead. The Shorts people are demonstrating the confidence Bombardier has put in them. The outcome shows ingenuity (particularly with RTI) and continuing growing confidence that the CSeries is very real.