The first Airbus A321neo is set to roll off the new Airbus final assembly line in Toulouse this year. It contains many updates – which should also help employees.
The alarm sound can’t be ignored when the small forklift is busy driving across the hall. Green and blue lights on the ground warn the staff, who may not be looking ahead, that he is about to cross their path. But what distinguishes the car, which moves in the huge hall of the Airbus site in Toulouse, is something else: the seat on which the driver would have sat is empty.
24 of these autonomous forklifts will soon be used for the aircraft factory. Airbus is currently testing it. It is one of the innovations used in the new Airbus A321 final assembly hall in Toulouse. You will provide employees with the parts they need to assemble the aircraft. The first Airbus A321 Neo is due to be completed there before the end of this year, according to Marion Summers, operational director of the new final assembly. In fact, the conversion actually started in 2020. But as a result of the pandemic, Airbus suspended the plans for a while. Now it got serious.
Changes in consultation with staff
You take everything “that works with other A320 family final assemblies in Toulouse, Tianjin, Mobile and Hamburg and make it even better,” it says. Efficiency and ergonomics are at the fore – both are also closely related. In order to create good working conditions, there has also been constant communication with the employees who are already working on the final assembly lines – and who will also work in the new location in the future.
Independent forklift. Photo: Airbus
There were obvious and less obvious modifications. A small but relevant change at the suggestion of employees, for example, is that white is more dominant in workstations than, say, in a production hall in Hamburg. Yellow prevails there. But the white color is more pleasant and calm.
expected pedestrian crossings
Airbus is still testing other innovations. For example, projectors that show zebra crossings on the roads when you can cross them – and small stop signs on the ground when that’s not possible. It is not yet clear if it will actually be used.
But you definitely want to use automated tool delivery. Anyone who removes a tool digitally logs it in – if it’s missing at the end of the day, an alarm will sound. This prevents expensive gadgets from getting lost—or, at worst, being forgotten somewhere on the plane. These digital toolboxes are already used in final assembly of the Airbus A350; According to the manufacturer, the employees didn’t want to go back again.
The wings were installed earlier
Airbus stresses that increased automation should not lead to fewer people being used for final production. But there are some other jobs – like managing a forklift fleet. These changes were also pushed forward in close consultation with the staff.
There have also been modifications to operations. The wings were fitted to the aircraft earlier on the new final assembly line. A small change, but it ensures that the following workstations work more efficiently, explains Airbus manager Smyrs. It was also possible to reduce the number of work shifts from three to two.
Convenience stores shorten distances
“This provides employees with better planning for security and work-life balance, but we also have the option of adding another shift at short notice if it’s important,” Smyrs says. This means that the most important goal can be achieved better and with less stress: “Delivery, deliver, deliver.” Because by 2026, Airbus wants to increase production of the A320 family to 75 aircraft per month. There is still a long way to go until then. The output this year will be around 50, up from 24 and then 65.
New assembly line. Photo: Airbus
Another new feature is that each of the dozens of workstations in the 122,000 square meter site has its own warehouse – seats and other parts can be found at the cabin assembly site, for example. This means that the distances that employees have to travel are shorter. This is not possible on other sites due to space reasons. This is possible on the new final assembly line in Toulouse because the larger Airbus A380 was previously assembled in the hall with a 46-meter-high ceiling. Until now there wasn’t a lot of room in the final assembly of medium-haul aircraft.
There is still room for more
Initially, only the largest models in the Airbus A320 family will be produced. A321s account for more than half of the outstanding backlog. The Airbus A321 XLR, which many airlines also want to fly on long-haul routes, will also be assembled here when the time comes. However, the manufacturer does not rule out the possibility that smaller versions of the Halls may one day be released.
Currently it still looks a bit blank in the new final assembly. No wonder: The A321 is also a dwarf compared to the giant boot. And even with additional warehouses and other modifications, finishing still takes up less space. But when production is in full swing, things will get busier. About 700 employees will work here – this roughly corresponds to other factories. The empty space also gives Airbus the opportunity to open a second final assembly line at the same location, should the need arise.
In the photo gallery above, you can see more photos of the new final assembly. Click the image to open the gallery in large format.
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