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German Airbus A350 XWB Production Begins

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Airbus has started production in Germany of its answer to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner - the A350 XWB.

The first German component will also be one for the record books for its size. Measuring almost 32 metres by 6 metres, the upper wing shell is the largest integrated component ever to be built by Airbus from weight-saving carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP).

“The A350 XWB sets new benchmarks for the aviation industry and passengers. Advanced materials make the new Airbus the most economical and environment-friendly aircraft in its class. We are also applying these new standards to our production with facilities and machinery operating to the highest technology and quality standards. Thanks to this leading-edge production process, we are able to achieve a very high efficiency,” said Airbus President and CEO, Tom Enders.

The upper wing shells will be built using advanced production processes at the 30,000 square metre production hangars in Stade. For the first time automated tape-laying technology will be used not only for the carbon fibre but also for the lightning strike protection and fibreglass components. The wing shell, measuring 31.6 m by 5.6 m, will then undergo polymerisation in the autoclave. This high-tech oven is one of the largest facilities of its kind worldwide and can accommodate two wing shells simultaneously.

In addition to laying the wing skin panels, the plant also produces the stringers (longitudinal stiffeners used in wing panels). In order to produce these components, Airbus has for the first time, set up a flow line production system which measures 140 metres in length.

Other innovations include an entirely new quality control system, which now permits inspection of the external and internal surfaces of CFRP components of that size simultaneously. The advanced plant also boasts the use of waterjet technology for edge trimming and a high-precision automated conveyance system in the production hall for large components.

In addition to producing the upper wing shells for the A350 XWB, the Airbus Stade plant builds the vertical tailplane and, for the first time, CFRP fuselage shells. Approximately 100 employees will work in A350 XWB production by the end of 2010. This figure is expected to rise to around 500 when production reaches full capacity.

The Stade plant also has its own dedicated combined heat and power unit. This unit not only generates electricity and heat for the hangars: the emissions are used as inert gas for the autoclave and ensure fire protection. This means energy exploitation of the power unit is an exceptional 100%.

The A350 XWB is a new family of widebody airliners (A350-800, A350-900 and A350-1000) for which Airbus currently has 528 confirmed orders. With an airframe made of 53% lightweight carbon fibre composites, the aircraft has enormous fuel-saving potential.

Final assembly of the A350-900 is scheduled to start in 2011, with first delivery currently expected in 2013.

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