Pontifications: Transformation is key to increasing production rates

By Scott Hamilton

Feb. 19, 2018, © Leeham Co.: The likely prospect that Airbus and Boeing will increase single-aisle production rates next decade is outlined in our paywall article today.

The whys and capabilities to do so are outlined in the paywall post. The how is what I’ve been writing about since the first of the year, when LNC looked ahead to its 2018 forecast.

The “how” is the transformation in production that is underway in aerospace.

Automation, Digital, Cost-Cutting

I’ve written previously how automation, digitalization, additive manufacturing and 3D printing w2ill transform production. It’s critical to the business case of the Boeing “797” but it’s hardly exclusive to the airplane.

Elements of this transformation are already in place with the Big Four airframe and engine OEMs. It’s about precision and cost-cutting.

Transportation was the theme of the just-ended Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference. It is also the theme of the Airfinance Journal/Leeham Co. Southeast Aerospace and Defence Conference June 25-27 in Mobile (AL).

The importance of this design-and-production transformation can’t be overstated.

With production rates of the single-aisle airplanes increasing dramatically, joined by the announced rate increase for the Boeing 787 from 12 to 14/mo and the expectation that Airbus will bump the rate of the A350 to 13/mo from the 10/mo that will be achieved this year, even legacy programs are implementing new production techniques.

My sideline interviews at the PNAA conference also confirmed that some of these transformative production techniques are making their way onto low-rate production programs, like the Boeing 747-8 and 767/KC-46A.

These are not just the highly visible robotic machines on the assembly lines. Plastics that go into interiors or behind the sidewalls are now evolving into new manufacturing techniques.

The era of the highly repetitive, boring jobs performed by humans is being automated. This increases efficiency, accuracy and reduces the prospects of mistakes due to boredom.

The trade-off is fewer jobs in the functions involved. But the OEMs argue that the greater efficiency enables higher production which in turns creates more jobs, albeit in other functions.

This is why Airbus and Boeing can talk about production rates for single-aisle airplanes that were only dreamed about a decade ago—or even five years ago.

The PNAA conference included presentations and interviews hat detailed just some of the transformations that will happen in the coming years. I’ll be reporting from these in the coming weeks.

44 Comments on “Pontifications: Transformation is key to increasing production rates

  1. There is a danger that Airbus and Boeing relies to much on the robotics design and installation companies like Kuka, Electro Impact, Nova Tech, MTorres that they cannot set up or modify advanced production lines without them and they will become the new monopolistic Honeywells and United Technologies making the fat profits.

      • They won’t acquire. That fad has past. The new focus from both is to eliminate single source suppliers i.e. no single item can only be procured from a single supplier.
        There are pros and cons to the strategy, but recent history for both Boeing and Airbus has shown that bottlenecks occur when only a single line is used to deliver certain items. The question is how far does one go with the principle and can all potential bottlenecks be eliminated, or will the potential only be reduced?

        • I wouldn’t be so sure Aero Ninja. Any could consider a play for one or more providers in order to capture essential IP that would block or delay the availability of competitive technology to other OEMs.

      • That’s one of the reason the Chinese purchased Brotje Automation and Kuka (including Kuka Aerospace) Its part of China’s Made in China 2025 national strategy and plan for developing their commercial aircraft industry. The Chinese also purchased Aritex of Spain

  2. Contrary to what most people in Lynnwood like to tell each other, the 737 And A320 market shares are not a wash.

    The production rates may be similar, the portfolio’s, margin and profitability might not. Increasing production to 70 a month is not based on similar business cases.

    The A320 backlog is substantially bigger, the A320 line has two iso 1 champion and the A321 is likely enjoying premium margins based on high demand / little competition.

    The 737-7, 737-9 and 737-10 are not creating the waves hoped for so far, while the business has been booming.

    I hope Boeing is breeding on a plan B by now.

    • While you might be perfectly right in what you are saying, I yet wonder why the stock market charts tell such a different story. The profits too btw.

    • What? If the demand wasn’t there, Boeing would NOT be increasing production rates.

      Please enlighten us as to how much profit the A320 and 737 actually make, instead of spouting innuendo.

    • Well that is the $64 nub of the issue.

      Supposedly the Delta bid on the A321 was tough fought. Hard telling, but I would have hoped Airbus took advantage of a lack of Boeing product there and made some good money.

      If Boeing makes a move and actually does an 737RS with its backlog, and gains a huge order intake ala the Airbus jump when it did the A320NEO, then where does that go?

      I would rather be in Airbus shoes than Boeing in the single aisle segment even before BBD deal.

      But if all you do is match production, then your benefit is the better money on the A321, probably about the same on the A320NEO as the 737-8.

      The classic way to take advantage is to outproduce Boeing.

      But unlike autos, the risk of ramp up and failing is huge, so they creep up and Boeing hasn’t had to open a new facility to stay even.

      They just added a third line to Renton and when the switch is made you will have same capability as Airbus does.

      I believe they think they can get 90 a month out of Renton.

      And the backlog to some degree inhibits new orders if needed short term.

      Boeings only move seems to be a odd lash up with Embraer who has to be thinking hard on being a bit player in the big blue machine (or should be) .

      Maybe the most interesting times since the launch of the jet age.

    • It is so obvious that the next big change in single aisles is not far ahead that this is probably the best explanation for the production increase at Boeing. If they are smart they are working full time and top secret on the 737 successor, while at the same time try to deliver every one from the order book asap.

      The step change is of course all about a full-CFRP plane. and the 1 Trillion $ question is how to make them in a cost effektive way. They will certainly be more expensive than the aluminum 737, but should be cheaper than the A320-CFRP-successor.

    • Yes, and that’s why 737 values on the used market have plummeted vs A320 as well. And also why Boeing cash flow has plummeted.

      Oh, wait, let’s not consider actual facts, rather let’s worry about theoretical losses a fanboy thinks Boeing revenues are taking.

      • Please can the invective.

        This is a good forum with strong opinions and has managed to maintain courtesy and respect pretty well.

        • The only venom and vituperation I can decipher comes from the likes of certain commentators who enjoy lobbing wholly unsubstantiated verdicts at one product line or another.

          The sarcastic hope for Boeing in this case (as to a plan b for the miserably failed max) is for a rash new product, to be condemned quickly. It is again an entirely unsubstantiated assertion; residual values as I indicated would be a good metric, if it were true, and even this site has provided no indication of such a scenario happening.

          • The Max has one good selling aircraft in the lineup, one sort of (-10)

            The -7 is not a seller, the -9 was met with serious indifference.

            Boeing has allowed itself to be boxed in with a seriously dated architecture.

            It in turn now has an outstanding competitor that eats at the -8 that is selling.

            Boeing then decide to take over Embraer that does not have a competitor for the C series, and builds a lot of business jets, a market Boeing has never been interested in. Their only history with smaller was DeHaviland and that went poorly at best.

            Ford kept building the Model T and sales were great, then from one year to the next they went flat.

            I agree that Boeing has executed poorly in single aisle (and the 787 was a management debacle that is of historic proportion) and what is their single aisle plan for the future?

      • @Texl1649: Instead of growing a red face, why don’t you join a discussion using reason, information and ideas?

        Do you not share the idea that the next big thing about single-aisles is going CFRP? Or rather, when do you think that will happen? Or maybe you think something else will be a more important development? What do you think about Full-FBW for example?

        Or maybe you think the 737 will continue for another 20 or 30 years? If so, could you support such a scenario with some logic?

        • Texl, Gundolf and all others: Knock it off. Stop this back-and-forth bickering right now.

  3. Will engine manufacturers and other supply chains be able to keep up and maintain quality?

    • That is really hard for the 797 as Boeing will ask for superior fuel consumption, long life on wing and reliability like a CFM56-7B for a tad higher price of a 50k Engine. I think they will charge more than for a 787-10 engine.

  4. NSA/NMA need to be transformative aircraft.

    a side by side double bubble based on A320 fuselage diameter would yield a 10 across twin aisle supporting 200 pax in ryan air configuration in 20 rows, aka about 15 meters of fuselage length. it would support two rows of LD3-45s side by side. the fuselage would contribute significantly to lift. recent studies show that the center support structure between the bubbles would be in the form of small diameter carbon tension rods within the passenger compartment with webbing up in the ceiling and below the floor.

    overwing engine mounting and a canard planform would allow a rearset wing and center of rotation allowing much shorter shorter landing gear reducing weight and a reduced noise footprint


    • I don’t think anyone but Honda is going to try an over wing engine.

      At that size the cost is too steep.

      • how is overwing more expensive than underwing? structural costs are no different, you are certainly looking at a new design engine anyway, having it designed for the supply/control lines and mount point to be on the bottom is no more expensive.

        Honda’s research showed a significant drag reduction over conventional mounting locations.

        reduced inherent noise footprint should allow cheaper/simpler solutions elsewhere on the aircraft while still hitting noise targets.

        putting the noisiest part of the engine behind the passenger compartment should reduce the need for sound insulation, which reduces weight.

        • Hung weight is a whole lot easier to design and deal with than over hung weight.

          There is a reason its not done.

          Same as tail fired jets, it works on small ones, everyone has gone to under the wing for regional and ala C series.

          • it is all an engineering trade, the costs of the (likely minimal, especially if they go to CF for the mounting struts) additional weight and engineering effort of an over wing engine is more than offset by significantly lighter, shorter landing gear, simpler wing leading edge, reduced drag and less weight for noise treatments in the engine intake and cabin.

            throw in some ideas like virtual windows (a 12″ x 18″ LCD actually aligned with the seat row connected to the IFE and a set of external cameras on either side, front and bottom of the plane) and you save a lot more weight by eliminating physical windows and all the fatigue structures and flight safety maintenance associated.

            again, the NSA/NMA need to be transformative, not just another tube with wings and a single aisle so long that it takes 40 minutes to deplane.

    • Yes, Transformative domestic airplane. But 250 passengers in twin aisle, single class with 32 “ pitch like SW Airlines with growth to 300 in early 2030s. Not 3000-3600 nm range but 2000, not .78 Mach cruise but .72, and no commercial cargo,— all for much lower weight and really big fuel (~ 40%?) and carbon and cost savings per seat mile versus 737 Max 10 on hundreds of high traffic global routes in N America, W Europe, etc — And huge growth in China, India, and SE Asia. New 25,00o (?) thrust engines but under wing—available 2025-26. Need ASAP, 2025-26 in service.

      Climate change is here and effects will be getting much worse. Global fleet use of fossil fuels must decrease . Public pressures will demand it. Aircraft design, design points, and usage must reflect this.

      • I agree on most but I think the engines need to be a bit more powerful for an up to 300pax widebody with big slender wings, like 42 000lbf. The problem is that a similar Aircraft with more range like 4500nm with 50k Engines that also takes cargo containers will be much more flexible and used cross Atlantic even if it is more expensive, heavier, faster and burns more fuel. It is a 2020’s competion between the 767-200 vs 767-300ER again.

    • I responded to this Bilbo comment and it was published subject to a 5 min moderation review. Now it has disappeared.
      Was it because I mentioned climate change due to human activities in my last paragraph

        • Well we see the endorsement for Coal by a significant part of the US population.

          Somehow it does not seem demand worked so good for the demandees. .

  5. How about a BA 797/737 Max joint facility in Charleston? Lay it out for four eventual lines, two of each. Start the prelims to get it built now. Plan on an eventual 18 Maxes per line per month. 100 Maxes per month, company total. Plenty of time—and space, and on locale talent now—for the Max, and the eventual new ‘97.

    • more likely an assembly line in Brazil after buying EMB. just think of the cheap labor and government subsidies, as well as profit offshoring potential!

      even our dear leader’s glorious tax policy is chump change compared to what Brazil would give in exchange for 20k high tech manufacturing jobs.

        • Its another high risk development like the 787 was. Automation is not a defined point or goal but a constantly moving target. What is cutting edge last year is old hat in 6-8 years. We can see with the carbon fibre how quickly it moved from autoclave to out of autoclave- which only the russians are doing now for large wing or fuselage sections.
          All the while Boeing is deciding what path to take , Airbus can easily ramp up a new CFC wing at the existing plant of its new partner Bombardier. Even easier path if its a development of the existing Cseries wing.
          They can have a new ‘near enough’ high tech plane much sooner and cheaper than what Boeing can do in the single aisle space. And then come in later with higher tech once Boeing is committed.
          Both sides obviously dont want to comitt too early on the engines as well, no point have out of date engines within 10 years from start of development

    • MOS:

      First South Carolina would have to come up with a 10 billion dollar tax break.

  6. Two big issues with this push for volume.

    A market this big is ripe for segmentation.
    See how GM overtook Ford.

    The issue here is not brands but models.

    Efficient — Five wide up to 150 standard sized — 18” x 32” — must be on the agenda.

    Mainstream — Six wide at 146” internal width at 180 plus seats would be the heart of the market.

    Long legged — HD SA Six wide at 156/158” internal width for longer range to get involved with the MoM’ster market.

    130/150 units per month of two basic models is just too much — eventually focus and efficiency will trump brute force and ignorance aka the economies of scale.

    Second RR must be desperate to get of the bench and get into the marketplace.

    Again segmentation will help.
    They have thrown away two gateways into the market.
    Need to get involved ASAP.

    • OK, I’ll bite. To address some the most common criticisms of propfan implementation:

      Noise: Safran claims their propfan prototype tests in 2013 proved no louder than the LEAP engines, which meet the FAA Stage 5 noise standards that became a requirement this year.
      Speed: GE is still targeting Mach 0.78 cruise speeds for a future open rotor engine, as their modeling of engine net efficiency in 2013 remains above 85% up to M0.8 and above 80% up to M0.85.
      Safety: Wood can now be densified so that it can be stronger than steel and resist impact almost as well as Kevlar. This would be a good material for armoring aircraft fuselages.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp24hTzT_aw (video showing a 3-mm thick, 5-layer densified wood sample stopping a bullet)
      Besides that, if the open rotor propellers are made from composites, delamination of the blade is the more likely than blade projectiles hitting the fuselage.

  7. I think a big issue in with the manufacturing 3.0, industry 4.0 or whatever term seems best is the effect on the value chain and IP positions. In the past eg fuselage was separate from pipework which was separate from interior fittings and so on. Discrete components with suitably discrete, demarked and understood IP and the ability for the IP owners to control and manage their place in the value chain.

    The new manufacturing technologies allow (for aircraft really require in order to realize their benefit) a blending of production that can really shift the positions of all involved, throughout the life of the product.

    • I wonder if Airbus will count CSeries 100 and 300 deliveries as toward their single aisle production numbers? If Bombardier starts putting GTFs on planes with regularity, that should approach 5 to 10 additional planes per month.

  8. Secondary international production sites for older models has been done in aviation, on the military fighter and helicopter side notably. Of course the old trunk liner program for md80.

    But I don’t see any ‘advantage’ to setting up a 737 line in South America in the mid 2020s. Boeing should, by then, have burned the backlog down to a more customary period of months/years. It would be surprising if the NSA doesn’t have multiple final assembly lines, though (and it surely won’t be carted across the country on rails).

    • I was suggesting that the NSA line would be in brazil. I think NMA timeline is a little tight for that kind of greenfield operation, but NSA would give plenty of time.

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