Production is running up in the new 18,000m² (194,000ft²) composite unit at Aerolia's assembly site in Méaulte?
Unlike the cockpit fuselage sections of previous Airbus models, which consist of a single lower shell to approximately floor level, Section 11 forming the upper structure immediately around the flight deck and Section 12 extending aft until just behind the first set of passenger doors, the A350 XWB follows a different construction.
While the majority of the nose fuselage section has a carbon reinforced plastic (CFRP) structure and panelling, Section 11 is made of aluminium. Four composite panels cover the remaining part of the fuselage frame structure: the nose upper shell extending aft from above the cockpit windows; left- and right-hand side panels including the respective passenger door apertures; and a single panel to cover the lower area of sections 11 and 12, which are the largest of the four at approximately 30m².
All panels are manufactured in the new composite unit, which is divided into 3 main sections.
- The initial clean room comprises a single production line for the composite lay-up, inclusion of stringers and preparation for curing of all four panel types. The CFRP material is built up on the male mould from the inside out, starting with the innermost layer and ending with the "outer skin". The female mould is then lowered, with the material "sandwiched" in between the two moulds so that everything can be turned around. The male mould is removed and stringers are added on the now freely accessible inner panel side.
- The next section includes a 7m (23ft)-diameter, 11m-long autoclave, which allows to "bake" up to two panels - still on their female moulds - at a maximum temperature of 180°C (356°F) and pressure of 7-8bar (101-116psi) during a 10-hour curing process. The panel is then removed from the mould and freed of the protective foil to prevent adhesion to the mould. Thereafter, the panels enter a combined high-pressure water jet cum five-axis machine tool to trim the edges, cut openings and drill holes.
- The final section houses a buffer zone for production panels, a quality control area with non-destructive testing (NDT) equipment and tools for possible repairs, a paint booth and oven, as well as the final panel assembly with four production lines. The panels are vertically suspended and fixed in metallic crates for protection and to ensure they maintain their shape while being in the buffer zone or being transported. Also, the production stations have been set up for the staff to work on vertically fixed panels for better ergonomics.
Marrying the panels with the externally produced carbon airframe components and locally manufactured metallic Section 11 takes place in the existing assembly facility, in which the nose fuselage sections of other models are taking shape.
Based on the article "Aerolia runs up A350 panel production" published in Flightglobal