Lord Lands Major 737 Max Autothrottle Deal

 - March 9, 2018, 10:16 AM
Lord autothrottle assemblies in the Boeing 737 Max will replace a system whose assembly process now takes eight hours to complete. (Photo: Boeing)

Lord Electromagnetic Solutions has won a multi-year, single-source contract from Boeing to supply autothrottle modules for the 737 Max series. Friday’s announcement marks the biggest award in Lord’s 94-year history and represents a significant deal for the recently acquired Electromagnetic Solutions business, which historically had maintained strong links with Airbus.

Headquartered in Cary, North Carolina, Lord Corporation in July 2016 acquired the Fly-by-Wire Systems France business, located at Saint-Vallier in the Rhône valley south of Lyon. The facility has a long history of developing electromagnetic control systems and actuators for the aerospace sector, producing systems such as sidestick controllers, autothrottles, electric rudder pedals, nosewheel tillers, and undercarriage/flap levers. A key supplier to Airbus, the company also provides cockpit control systems for the Dassault Falcon range and to Bombardier and Embraer, among others.

Having acquired Fly-by-Wire Systems (renamed Lord Electromagnetic Solutions this January), Lord began investing in new machinery and a new facility at Pont de l’Isère, a few miles south of Saint-Vallier. A month following the acquisition Lord began discussions with Boeing, resulting in selection in January.

For Boeing the deal will make a significant contribution to the company’s drive to increase the production rate of the 737 Max, scheduled to rise from 47 aircraft per month this year to 52 next year and 57 in 2019. The 737 Max now uses a Boeing autothrottle system made of many components that require complex installation and connection from underneath the cockpit floor. Taking around eight hours to complete, the process has proved a considerable bottleneck in final assembly, and a hindrance to increasing production rates.

Based on the autothrottle developed for the Embraer Legacy 450/500 business jets, for which Lord also provides the sidestick and rudder pedals, the Lord system is a self-contained, modular line-replaceable unit that can be dropped in to the vacant space and connected through electric connecting ports within minutes. It also weighs less and occupies less space, although the latter feature doesn’t benefit the 737 Max because it must occupy the same volume as the incumbent system.

Following the signing of the contract, the French facility will begin the detailed engineering design, prototyping, and testing of the autothrottle, which will culminate in flight trials to satisfy certification requirements. Plans call for completion of a production-ready, flight-safe system in two years, an aggressive schedule but one that draws heavily on the six-year development program for the Legacy 450/500 autothrottle.

From 2020, production will take place at the Pont de l’Isère facility, now nearing completion. Saint-Vallier will cease work at the end of July, ahead of equipment transfer to the new factory during August and resumption of deliveries in September.

Around 60 percent of production will happen in France, while the remaining 40 percent takes place at a mirror site established at Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, last year. Having two sources for the system stood as a key element of Lord’s proposal, not only reducing the potential risk to the customer of having one source of systems, but also to support U.S.-based airlines in a more time-efficient manner. Both facilities will house identical centers for the inspection and repair of autothrottle and other systems.