May 09, 2013
As Airbus readies for the first concrete pour for its new A320 factory in Mobile, Ala., the company is empowering plant managers to make decisions to assure that its supply chain runs smoothly.
“We really need the supply chain to run like clockwork,” Airbus North America President and CEO Barry Eccleston said May 8 during Aviation Week’s Civil Aircraft Manufacturing Conference in Charlotte, N.C.
The first concrete footings are to be poured next week. Hiring will begin later this year for the 1,000 workers needed once assembly is running at the anticipated capacity of four aircraft a month, Eccleston adds.
The factory will be Airbus’s fifth facility in the U.S., but the first to assemble aircraft. It is being built at the Brookley Aeroplex on the Mobile coastline, a site originally intended for an Airbus military tanker program.
To assure the smoothest possible startup, Airbus intends to make the facility a carbon-copy of its A320 factory in Hamburg, Germany, mirroring the process used when the airframer built an A320 factory in Tianjin, China.
Assembly of the first U.S.-built aircraft, using modular units arriving by ship from Europe, is to begin in the second half of 2015. The first delivery will be to JetBlue Airways in 2016.
Production rates of four per month are expected in 2017, although Eccleston says the factory has the capacity to manufacture eight aircraft each month.
With a backlog of 3,889 A320-family aircraft, Airbus is modifying the Power 8 manufacturing process it adopted in the mid-2000s to pull itself out of delays plaguing the A380 program. As part of those revisions, the company is strengthening its operational links and delegating greater authority to plant managers. “We are looking for faster decision-making,” Eccleston says.
He says the manufacturer is spending $1 billion a year across the organization to assure quality, largely through hiring and additional training. Airbus is facing record backlogs, totalling 9,393 aircraft of all types.
Eccleston notes a difference between Airbus’s approach to suppliers from that of its rival, Boeing: the U.S. manufacturer offers more detailed instructions. “Unfortunately, that difference in supply chain philosophy came back to bite us” in the initial days of the A350 program with Spirit AeroSystems, says Eccleston. Wichita-based Spirit makes fuselage sections and wing leading edges in Kinston, N.C.