Airbus Helicopters is implementing radical changes in helicopter production, starting with its new H160 medium twin. Chief executive officer Guillaume Faury is bringing to bear some of his previous experience in the automobile industry on construction and assembly techniques “that haven’t changed much in 50 years,” he told journalists at a media briefing on June 9.
Some of the changes are straightforward rationalization, leading to much greater modularity. Airbus Helicopters’ largest sites at Donauworth in Germany and Marignane in France both maintain full design and production capabilities. In future, though, Donauworth will be responsible for center fuselages and Marignane will deal with transmissions and rotor heads. Albacete in Spain will do rear fuselages, while rotor blade work will be concentrated at the division’s facility here at Le Bourget, Paris.
“We want to perform the minimum number of tasks on the final assembly line [FAL],” Faury said. Only 60 parts for the H160 will be sent to the FAL, compared with 1,500 for its predecessor, the SA365 Dauphin. An H160 will spend only eight weeks in the FAL, compared with 22 weeks for an SA365.
Other changes are more radical, and take advantage of digitization. Faury calls this concept “The Ring,” with all relevant personnel across the division enabled for electronic communication. Shop floors are going paperless, and each worker will have a tablet computer with instructions. According to Faury, these workers will be fully empowered to suggest improvements to the design office. Technical publications will also be electronic, and feature 3D displays.
Robotic techniques will also be introduced to install complete pre-assembled avionics bays, and also the main gearboxes and the engines.
One effect of the changes will be that customers will be able to specify final configurations—for instance, whether the doors should be hinged or sliding—only 24 weeks before delivery, versus typically 52 weeks at present.
Faury said that final assembly of the third prototype H160 will benefit from these changes. It is due to fly at the end of the summer.