Airbus has started making parts for the A350 XWB in Germany, the company announced today. Tom Enders, Airbus president and CEO, Gerald Weber, Airbus Germany executive vice president of operations and chairman of the board of management, and Peter Hintze, Parliamentary state secretary and German government aerospace coordinator, hosted a ceremony marking the event at the company's production plant in Stade.
The first German component–the airplane's upper wing shell–measures almost 32 meters by 6 meters (105 feet by 20 feet), making it the largest carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) part ever built by Airbus.
Plans call for Airbus to build the upper wing shells using automated tape-laying technology, not only for the carbon fiber but also for the lightning-strike protection and fibreglass components, at the 30,000-square-meter (322,917-sq-ft) production hangars in Stade. The wing shell will then undergo "polymerization" in the one of the world's largest autoclaves, which can accommodate two wing shells simultaneously.
Along with the wing skin panels, the plant also produces the stringers, or longitudinal stiffeners used in the wing panels. Airbus has for the first time established a flow line production system, measuring 140 meters (459 feet) in length, to produce the stringers.
Other innovations include an entirely new quality control system, which now allows inspection of the external and internal surfaces of such large CFRP components simultaneously. The plant also uses waterjet technology for edge trimming and a high-precision automated conveyance system in the production hall for large components.
In addition to producing the upper wing shells for the A350 XWB, the Airbus Stade plant builds the vertical tailplane and, for the first time, CFRP fuselage shells. Some 100 employees now work in A350 XWB production at Stade, and Airbus expects that figure to rise to around 500 when production reaches full capacity.
The Stade plant also employs its own dedicated combined heat and power unit. This unit not only generates electricity and heat for the hangars; its emissions provide inert gas for the autoclave and ensure fire protection. Airbus has now drawn firm orders for 528 A350 XWBs. The company plans to start final assembly of the A350-900 next year, in time to achieve first delivery in 2013.