In today’s fast-paced environment, market needs change so quickly that staying connected to the customer is critical. We learned this lesson the difficult way when our first definition of the Airbus A350 didn’t suit our customers. This gave our competitor the lead in an environment of massive competition. We had to close the gap, which is when we developed the A350 XWB (extra-wide body).
We knew that the A350 XWB would be the largest, most complex program in the European aerospace industry’s history. It is the first Airbus aircraft to make extensive use of carbon fiber in its construction, more than 50% of the fuselage and the aerofoils. Many new methods had to be implemented, and we faced an extremely rapid manufacturing challenge. We also needed to lead all of our suppliers in adapting to the plane’s challenges.
We had to make tremendous leaps in our efficiency. The collaborative aspect has been vital. We had to connect everyone from the start, to incorporate ideas from every discipline, to develop methods that were radically different from those we used for the A380. For the first time, we gathered all the departments under a single program management to unite the teams and ensure their commitment to one common goal.
We have more than 3,000 users of our digital mock-up (DMU) connected daily in real-time, allowing us to be extremely efficient. Because we built effective bridges between the engineering world and the manufacturing world, allowing them to collaborate via a virtual 3D model on a single platform, there was very little late-cycle feedback. When a change was needed, everyone who needed to know – including our suppliers – knew about it immediately. Extensive simulation of structures and system functionality, far more than we had used in the past, also contributed to the exceptional quality of the specification documentation for the A350 XWB.
The results of our innovative collaboration are impressive. We not only caught up with our competitors, we have taken the lead. We predicted almost a year in advance the date that the plane would make its first flight, and we achieved that on June 14, 2013. We have more than 700 orders already and we have completed 270 hours since that first flight, so the plane behaves very well.
“We needed to connect everyone from the start. For the first time, we gathered all the departments under a single program management.”Didier Evrard
Executive Vice President and Head of the Airbus A350 XWB Program
The pride of what we have achieved is profound, both for our Airbus employees and our suppliers. For me, personally, the achievement is special. The A350 XWB is the last program I will manage at Airbus. The scale of the challenge on all fronts, and the opportunity to serve Airbus EADS as it achieved a major milestone in its history, was a tremendous motivation.
The results we have achieved – not only at the aircraft level but also in the ways of working within Airbus and with our suppliers – are a legacy that will benefit all future programs.