Agile manufacturing for the aerospace industry: Airbus project

A350 XWB landing

Production-driven management challenges

Bringing the Airbus A350 to market was not simple. A new design and new materials meant the production ramp-up would be challenging. However, the Airbus Group also aimed to cut assembly costs and times with the introduction of new techniques and procedures. Meeting these demands would require successful production management.

As part of developing the agile manufacturing abilities needed, the Airbus Group joined the ARUM (adaptive ramp-up management) EU research project. Developments included 'out-of-sequence assembly' and 'traveling workers' — where staff follow an aircraft section to different manufacturing sites to finish their tasks. In particular, the project focused on finding tech-based solutions to the modern-day needs of small batch production.

A350 assembly.
Click to enlarge: A350 assembly.
An important aspect of the work was the creation of a baseline. This would enable the comparison of new production developments and implementations. The baseline took the form of a simulation created in AnyLogic, where engineers could combine agent-based and discrete-event modeling methods to fully capture the nature of assembly-line work stations.

The simulation model also enabled the testing and development of new production strategies using historical production and disruption data, producing both statistical and visual outputs.

Agile production management targets achieved

The A350 now has three main variants, with the latest launched in February 2018. Despite all the challenges of bringing the plane to market, Bloomberg quotes the COO, Fabrice Brégier, as saying the A350 program achieved its delivery targets and was “managed much better than any other big development so far”.

Indeed, the $15 billion A350 program compares very favorably to market rival Boeing and its Dreamliner at $32 billion. This should come as no surprise though as a part of the project motivation for Airbus was to avoid the expense of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner program. By which measure, the project is most certainly a success.

More details about the project – in the Airbus agile manufacturing strategies development case study and video of Arnd Schirrmann's AnyLogic Conference presentation.

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