18 November 2010
The recent public debut of the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft, which includes locally made components, is proof that South African manufacturers can hold their own with the best in the world when it comes to high-end engineering, says Denel Saab Aerostructures.
Denel Saab Aerostructures (DSA) and Aerosud, both based in Gauteng province, are the only two companies outside of Europe that manufacture sections for the massive four-engine turboprop aircraft, due to be delivered to defence forces internationally within the next two years.
“Our participation in the Airbus production process is testimony to the ingenuity of our design team and the quality of our workmanship,” DSA chief executive Ismail Dockrat said in a statement this week.
DSA is responsible for the aircraft’s top shells, from design to manufacturing, at its facilities in Kempton Park. The top shells will be fitted on all 180 Airbus A400M that will be produced over the 25-year life-cycle of the project, and will be a profitable project, according to the company.
The top shells are made up of more than 1 100 parts to form a large machined skin made out of an aluminium alloy. Each shell has the width and length of a small car and weighs about 100kg.
The manufactured product is then shipped to Germany, where it is incorporated into the fuselage, which is then transported for final assembly at the Airbus production facility in Seville, Spain.
Skills training and development
DSA project manager Richard van Wyk said the company’s participation in the Airbus project had enabled its engineering division to train and develop high-level skills, as most of the engineers and artisans working on the project received extensive training in Germany, while Airbus also conducted regular audits of the manufacturing process.
The product also exceeds the rigorous standards set by local and European civil aviation authorities.
“We have been an integral part of the Airbus project from the design stages right through to production and testing,” Van Wyk said, adding that the majority of the components were manufactured locally, either at DSA or by sub-contractors.
Future manufacturing capacity
To produce the top shells, DSA invested in custom tooling and advanced engineering machinery – including large bed machining, laser radar inspection and special enlarged treatment plants – that could be used in manufacturing processes on other types of aircraft in the future.
Denel Saab Aerostructures also manufactures the wing-to-fuselage fairings, made of an aluminium alloy frame and carbon composite panels.
The locally manufactured components have already been fitted and flight-tested on five A400M development aircraft. The shells that left the production line this week will be fitted onto the first aircraft due to be delivered to an end customer.
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