Airbus subsidiary Stelia Aerospace is close to completing the modernization of its factory at Méaulte in the north of France. The aerostructures manufacturer, which is headquartered in Toulouse, has invested around €70 million ($79 million) over the past 18 months to transform the plant into a fully digital operation in order to support increasing Airbus's monthly production rates to 60 A320s and 13 A350s.
“For the A320, this is already achieved. We’ve reached the rate of [producing materials] for 60 [shipsets],” said Stelia Aerospace CEO Cédric Gautier, who inaugurated the new factory in March alongside Fabrice Bergier, his counterpart at Airbus Commercial Airplanes.
Stelia, which was formed in January 2015 through the merger of Aerolia and Sogerma, produces forward fuselage sections for the entire Airbus family of airliners. The Méaute site, where most structures for Airbus are made, is clearly the trailblazer facility for the innovations Stelia wants to make in production processes and technology.
One of the first decisions the company made was to assign specialized roles to each building at the site, allocated by aircraft program. The building for the new A350 is around 300 meters long (984 feet). Work for the A320 program is now concentrated in two buildings, whereas before it had been scattered across several parts of the site. This was took account of output rate for the A400M and A380 programs being significantly slower than for the A320.
The production process has been remodeled to be closer to those used in the automobile sector, with fuselage sections moving continuously along a line to be completed in different stages. Riveting is now automated; managed on tablet devices without any paper. Managing the riveting process, alone, used to take up two hours each day. Now it is handled in real time.
According to Stelia, it has already reduced the time taken to produce structures by around 15 percent. “The transformation achieved by Stelia has put this subsidiary on the same level as the Airbus Group, and even above [the efficiency] of some Airbus Commercial Airplanes factories,” commented Brégier.
On May 30, the Méaulte factory delivered to Airbus the first nose section for the new BelugaXL extra-large freighter. The aircraft is used to transport large aerostructures between the airframer’s various factories around Europe.
However, Stelia doesn’t only want to serve Airbus. One of Gautier’s objectives is to find more new clients, as it did back in 2011, when Bombardier named it to produce fuselage sections for the new Global 7000 business jet. Today, the company earns about a third of its revenues from work for the Airbus Group. In 2016, revenues increased by 8 percent on 2015 to reach €2.1 billion ($2.4 billion).
During the Paris Air Show, Stelia (Hall 2a Stand A254) will display various metal and composite structures for the A350, while also showcasing for the first time samples of its work for Boeing’s rival 787 widebody. To get closer to North American clients, Stelia is establishing an aerostructures factory in Mexico. To start with, it will support Global 7000 production.
The French group also wants to develop other activities, such as producing seats for business and first class airline passengers, as well as for pilots. Currently, this work contributes around €200 million ($224 million) to total revenues, and Stelia wants to increase this by around 50 percent over the next three years on the back of growing demand for more cabin comfort.
In the cockpit, Stelia claims to be the joint leader for pilot seats alongside the UK group Ipeco. It supplies seats for all Airbus and ATR models, as well as for various Boeing and Embraer aircraft.