Airbus wing production and testing improved with “bouncy castle” barrier

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A research project at the Airbus factory in Broughton in the UK has developed a way for wing manufacturing to continue while testing is carried out.

The two-year project installed an inflatable barrier, which has been nicknamed “the bouncy castle”, on the A320 wing assembly line and keeps operators safe while speeding up aircraft production.

The project, a collaboration between Airbus Research and Technology, Cranfield University and the Airbus Systems Test Group was led by Cranfield research fellow José-Angel Gonzalez-Domingo and improves the installation process for hydraulic systems during A320 wing production.

Gonzalez-Domingo said, “First, I looked at making the hydraulic tests quicker, but realized they were already very well optimized. “Instead, I came up with an idea that would allow operators to keep working safely on the leading edge of the wing during the testing by using a simple barrier system with an inflatable device for rapid deployment.”

The inflatable barrier was introduced on the shop floor in August 2018 and is now saving over seven hours in the cycle time of the whole wing manufacture. It has also eliminated the need for construction of bays that were being built to increase the production of A320, saving a combined total of €2.5 million (US$2.8 million).

“Before the inflatable barrier, no one could work on the wing while the hydraulic tests were being carried out, as there is corrosive fluid inside the wing pipeline.” said Gonzalez-Domingo. “The tests would take around 12 hours, which was a huge amount of production time to lose.”

By putting a barrier under the leading edge to create an isolated area, operators can continue to work safely. “The barrier is quick and easy to install,” said José. “It inflates within 30 seconds and adapts to the shape of the wing, providing an airtight seal.”

The barrier uses a combination of telescopic screen trolleys and an inflatable wall placed under the wing, which connect to the conventional barriers and protect operators from any hydraulic fluid leaks that occur when the wing is under pressure.

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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