As part of our visit to 2016 Airbus Innovation Days, the firm provided access to various parts of its local operations in the Hamburg region of Germany. One of the visits was to their plant in a small town called Stade.
The plant produces every vertical stabilizer (fin) for every Airbus aircraft. You can view pictures of the plant visit here. The various fins are assembled by what appears to be small teams. Airbus has started to make great strides in deploying robots for the assembly. Even for the giant seven story high A380 fin. You will see this among the pictures.
Then another plant close by was also part of the visit. With a floor space 90 meters wide and 400 meters long, this plant is where the A350 wings are made. Stade does the top part while the bottom parts comes from an identical plant in Spain. It is a complex system, but fits with how Airbus has done things among partner nations. Its not a cheap solution, but legacy is real and they make it work.
Once again in the pictures you can see the large autoclave for baking the wings. The autoclave can bake two wings per 12 hour cycle. Running 24/7, the autoclave has the capacity to support up to rate 10 for the A350 program. The wings are woven using robots. Interestingly Airbus has already moved to a more modern robotic system for what is now the largest CRFP part on an aircraft. Until the Boeing 777x wings come out.
The fiber is woven to varying depths – thicker at the fuselage and then thinner towards the tips. The entire weaving process is run by a team of only four people. In the entire 90×400 plant only utilizes 40 people. Airbus makes extensive use of a local school where it gets apprentices that are eager to work with the latest in manufacturing technologies. The combination of easily accessible trained people and robots makes the plant especially effective. However, as the plant manager explained, while the savings from robots cannot even be compared what it would take to do the work manually, the greatest benefit is quality. Using robots, Airbus ensures every wing is exactly alike making inspections and quality control much easier. That, in his view, is the greatest benefit from deploying robots.