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On November 8th Dutch Prime Minister Rutte officially opened the new production facility of Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands in Oegstgeest. In the 5,000 sqm smart factory, which is equipped with industry 4.0 capabilities, the Leiden-based site of Airbus develops, builds, tests and qualifies the engine frames for the lower and upper propulsion module of the Ariane 6. “The new production facility of Airbus is relevant, not only for the development of space, but also for employment and innovation in the Netherlands,” Prime Minister Rutte emphasised in his speech during the celebratory opening event.

Challenging

ArianeGroup, which has the design authority and industrial lead for the Ariane 6 launcher development and operation on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA), appointed Airbus Netherlands partner for the development and production of the Ariane 6 Vulcain Aft Bay (VUAB) and the Vinci Thrust Frame (VITF) in June 2017. It led to the decision to build a dedicated industry 4.0 facility for the development and production of the Ariane 6 and also Vega-C structures. “Within 10 months, our state-of-the-art assembly facility has been built and equipped with innovative solutions, like a robotised production line and visualisation tools,” says Arnaud de Jong, managing director of Airbus Netherlands, “The smart factory is now fully ready to fulfil its challenging task and today’s opening is the crowning glory of a huge team effort. An effort which illustrates the clear mind-set to produce the new Ariane 6 engine frames in the most cost- and time-efficient way.”

InnovationQuarter has been involved in the process of finding a suitable location for the new Airbus production facility. “We are most happy with the expansion of Airbus,” says Niels Krol, senior accountmanager (Aero)space at InnovationQuarter. “It means a significant reinforcement for the space cluster in our region.”

Optimise logistics and assembly

To address the challenging commercial set-up of the European Ariane 6 programme, the Dutch space company Airbus chose a development and industrialisation approach that strikes a balance between heritage and the needed innovative green fields approach. This led to two key decisions to optimise the logistics and the assembly line:

  • The new site has a direct connection to the Rotterdam sea port, enabling safe and rapid transport of the large VUAB structure (5.4m diameter, 5.2m high) to ArianeGroup in Les Mureaux, France, for final assembly with the Ariane 6 launcher. The VITF engine frame will be transported to Bremen by road. Final stop for both engine frames is the European launch site Kourou in French Guyana.
  • The extended enterprise philosophy used by ArianeGroup towards its first tier partners was translated by Airbus Netherlands to its own supply chain. To gain maximum benefit, the main suppliers (and their machining facilities) are being integrated in the dedicated Ariane 6 facility, working as a shop-in-shop.

Industry 4.0

The facility is equipped with ‘Industry 4.0’ robotisation and automation capabilities, in order to be prepared for the anticipated production rates up to 24 engine frames (12 VUAB’s and 12 VITF’s) per year. Key elements of the industrialisation approach are:

  • Decision to have engineering and production go hand-in-hand;
  • Handling and assembly jig & tool concept based on a “flow process” instead of rigid and fixed-placed elements;
  • Implementation of smart manufacturing principles, including factory automation, implementation of a paperless factory and the application of lean flow principles.