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Airbus uses electric tugs for wing assembly

08 January 2014

Airbus, one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers, is using pedestrian electric tugs from MasterMover as an integral part of its wing assembly plant in Broughton.

The factory, near Chester, is responsible for manufacturing the wings on nearly all Airbus aircraft, from the company’s popular A320 to its state-of-the-art A350 XWB.

The complex manufacturing and assembly process involved in building a wing requires the fast, safe and effective transportation of components and tooling around the factory.

Wings for the A320 aircraft are currently made using traditional materials like aluminium, but the arrival of the A350 brings with it a move towards carbon fibre composites. In either material, the wing parts are long, awkward to handle and often heavy.

For the past 10 years, MasterMover has supplied models from its MasterTug range as a solution for moving everything from stringers (the lightweight aluminium struts that secure the wing outer skin to the frame) through to complete wings for the A320. As demands on the Broughton operation have grown, so has the role for the MasterTug. Today, the tugs can be found not only moving wing parts but also moving support equipment, including mobile working platforms, production tooling, kitting trolleys and test equipment.

Designed and manufactured by MasterMover using the principle of weight transfer, electric tugs enable a single pedestrian operator to move heavy components with relatively small equipment by generating tractive force from the load itself. As components can be moved in a safe and controlled manner without the need for forklifts or cranes, Airbus is able to organise its assembly layout to suit its specific working practices.

Varying sizes of MasterTug are used at Broughton, from the MT5 capable of moving four tonne loads to the MT20, which can tow up to 15 tonnes. The MasterTugs are used throughout the production process: moving parts from goods in to the production line; transporting sub-assemblies through the machining process; and handling turnover jigs so that production staff can rotate components freely and safely.

Since 2008, 15 MasterTugs have taken their place on the flow-line production system used for final assembly of the A320 wings. A tug is positioned at each assembly stage and together they move the whole production line in unison. This proved to be a cost effective and highly reliable means of benefitting from flow line production techniques, which is exactly what Airbus needed with the rapidly growing demand for the smaller single aisle A320 aircraft. With a new wing completed every 11 hours, the MasterTugs have confirmed their reliability and longevity in a demanding production environment.

The expansion of MasterMover’s involvement at Airbus Broughton has been a continuous process, as Hugh Freer, Sales Director at MasterMover, explains. "As one department begins to use the MasterTug, their neighbours decide it will also be ideal for their purposes, and so on. The initial proposition proves itself very quickly.”