February 2009 - To manufacture an ecologically efficient product, the entire fabrication process needs to be streamlined. Airbus, Toulouse, France, is taking efficiency seriously with its construction work on the assembly line for its A350 XWB, a wide-body aircraft billed as optimally efficient throughout its design.
Airbus marked the occasion with a mid-January groundbreaking ceremony and press conference that featured President and CEO Tom Enders' assurance of quality control. And the new plane is being eagerly anticipated, with nearly 500 orders booked three-plus years ahead of delivery.
In designing the A350 XWB, Airbus incorporated many of the systems applied to its original A380. Variable frequency generators, which are powerful, lightweight and low-maintenance, were included. The XWB's hydraulics, like those of the A380, will operate on a 5,000-pound-per-square-inch level as part of another weight- and cost-saving measure.
But the cleaner skeleton is most evident in the wing, which is designed not only for faster performance but with aerodynamic enhancements and a carbon composition that help minimize material consumption. The use of computational fluid dynamics and more vigorous tunnel testing led to a cruise speed of Mach 0.85. Yet, on paper, the XWB's measurements are nearly identical to those of its predecessors. Its wingspan is 64.7 meters--consistent with other Airbus models--and its body encompasses a familiar total area of 442 square meters. The marked difference lies in how that space is used.
"This remarkable aircraft has been outselling the competition month-by-month since its launch," said Enders, "and it will provide the efficiency and performance that airlines desperately need in the face of today's economic challenges."
A model for manufacturing
Enders' excitement continued as he described the facility in which the plane will be built.
"As assembly halls go, this one is going to be pretty special--with the 74,000-square-meter structure designed for a parallel work flow of more than 10 A350s a month," he said shortly after the groundbreaking. "As a state-of-the-art workplace, it maximizes natural lighting to ensure the best possible working environment for our teams who build the aircraft, and it will incorporate recycled concrete foundations."
Extending the theme of absolute efficiency, Airbus is using 22,000 square meters of photovoltaic solar panels for the roof and hopes to generate more than half of its own power. They'll also be using somewhere between 8,000 cubic meters and 10,000 cubic meters of material from what's still a construction site, applying it to the facility's makeup in recycled form.
The message was driven home at the conclusion of the press conference, when a virtual bulldozer blitzed the stage and deposited its contents in front of Enders. Following a brief but elaborate augmented reality experience, the bulldozer's load transformed into a rendering of the facility, completing the symbolic presentation.
Ultimately, the XWB will be judged on its performance, not the materials or design that went into its manufacture. But in the meantime, Airbus is ensuring its practices and its planes are equally waste-free. MM