On January 13 Airbus announced that its teams created the first-ever single-piece composite center wing box. This represents an important evolution of a key structural component and provides support and rigidity for an aircraft’s wings.
The device was designed by research and technology teams at Airbus’ Toulouse and Nantes facilities as an upgrade to conventional multi-part wing boxes. The key advantage of this effort is a 20% reduction in manufacturing costs.
The single-piece composite wing box leverages advances in composite technologies, including the molding of complex parts combined with continuous fiber. This makes it easier to assemble, and provides improved load-bearing properties. The teams’ next objective is to prepare the single-piece composite wing box for industrialization using a full-scale demonstrator, with the goal of readying it for use on next-generation aircraft.
As we have seen with news from GE about their developments in additive manufacturing, the blend of new materials and manufacturing methods is growing apace. These changes seem to point to better quality items and lower weight. What is less discussed is the impacts of these new methods and materials might have of the staffing at the assembly sites and the supply chain. It appears the new materials and methods allow for higher levels of automation. For the OEM the outcome is likely to be positive; automation with new materials and additive manufacturing ensure every part is an original and exactly to spec. But what happens to the skilled people used in the factories now? How long before we see the other, less delightful, side of the brilliant technology change that is coming?