Alenia adopts new tech to build M-346 trainer

 - July 16, 2010, 2:05 AM

Alenia Aermacchi is stepping up the pace on the production line for its new
M-346 Master jet trainer at the Venegono Superiore factory in northern Italy, while also attempting to leap forward in manufacturing efficiency. Its aim is to initially produce up to 24 of the aircraft per year in a way that reduces unit costs and allows for an eventual increase in annual output to 40.

The production process currently is in a hybrid state as the company seeks to meet its commitment to deliver the first couple of aircraft to the Italian air force by year-end (with two more to follow by mid-2011). At the same time, it is setting up the permanent final assembly line.

The first four M-346s being produced for the Italian air force are in various stages of completion in Hangar Five at Venegono. These aircraft are being produced with the same rigging used for the prototypes and the low-rate-of-initial-production units.

The full Master assembly line will occupy two adjacent hangars–Three and Four. In establishing this new production platform, Alenia has leveraged its experience in both lean manufacturing of engine nacelles and in using digital mockups based on Delmia software throughout the design and manufacturing phases. In addition to helping Alenia design the production line, the digital mockup also has allowed the company to simulate assembly operations and to give workers animated instructions showing how to execute the most critical steps.

Hangar Four already houses three rigging cells for the main fuselage components and around the sides of the building are subcomponent assembly areas and rigging. The forward and rear subassembly rigging consist of two stations, while there are five for the central subassemblies. The company’s goal is to achieve a similar pace of production for all three elements.

Efficiencies Seen
Manufacturing efficiencies can already be seen in the production process. Parts are moved automatically from one station to the other within each of the cells. In addition, the workstation architecture, which permits positioning of the main components and jigs at a height that allows them to be rotated into the space immediately in front of the workers, also facilitates the ergonomics of the assembly process.

Part of the tooling was purpose-built using carbon fiber to accommodate unusual shapes and to save weight as needed. Subassemblies are transported under the rigging to be coupled with the part assembled airframe sections on
the rigging.

Some subassemblies of aircraft S/N 5 were installed on the cell in mid-June. Once the three main fuselage subassemblies have been completed, they are moved to the completion area for partial fuselages. Some of them will go first to the new paint shop, which is due to open late this month.

Fuselage sections are moved from one area to another using an automated guided vehicle that can recognize the specific completion stage of a fuselage section and move it to the next place. The vehicles are guided by a network of magnets installed in the factory floor.

The assembly process in Hangar Four ends with the marrying up of the fuselage sections, carried out using a numerical control machine. A laser continuous reference system ensures maximum precision in this process.

Last month, the wing kit assembly area, located adjacent to the fuselage assembly area, was being finalized. The last operation carried out in Hangar Four will be to join up the electric and hydraulic systems, followed by the installation of the landing gear. Then the fuselages will be towed into the final assembly line in Hangar Three.

The Venegono line is expected to process up to 12 aircraft on two parallel assembly lines at the same time, with an aircraft being moved forward to the next position every five days.

Alenia Aermacchi plans to have completed the final marrying-up area by late this year to enable it to complete the third aircraft for the Italian air force in early 2011. The first two aircraft completely produced on the new assembly line are expected to be delivered at the end of 2011.