Luise and Renate get company. The two drilling and filling robots at Airbus Hamburg FAL4 that entered service in early 2018 are not the only robots anymore. On October 1, Airbus officially inaugurated a new automated fuselage structure assembly line in Hangar 245 that includes the use of twenty more robots.
While Luise and Renate are used in FAL4 to mate fuselage barrels to form A321neo’s, Hangar 245 is a different phase of aircraft assembly. Here, fuselage sections arrive from elsewhere to be put together and form the barrels for all A320-family members.
The initial section assembly is done by eight Flextrack-robots that drill and counter-drill 1.100 to 2.400 holes per longitudinal joint. Once this is done, the section moves on to another automated area with twelve robots that operate on seven axes. They combine the center and aft fuselage section with the tail to form a single component. The robots drill, counter-sink, seal and insert 3.000 rivets into the orbital joint. This work used to be done by men and women.
Hangar 245 has been operational for over six months now. During the Innovation Days in May, Chief Operating Officer Michael Schoellhorn used a picture of it in his presentation on innovations in aircraft assembly but it went almost unnoticed. Only after it has been proved the system is mature, Airbus presented the new hall to invited guests and media.
As Schoellhorn said in May, Airbus is seeking to increase the share of automated assembly technology as it targets a production rate of 63 A320s in late 2020, potentially even 70 if possible. But as experience with FAL4 has shown, robots do not necessarily work quicker than humans. Airbus had to iron out issues that according to Schoellhorn in May were almost done.
EVP Programmes and Services, Philippe Muhn, said in May the robots in FAL4 needed three to four days to assemble an A321neo compared to two days in FAL2.
At its Saint Nazaire plant in France, Airbus will introduce robots next year to assist workers with the assembly of A320 nose sections.