From the early designs of the CASA C-212 and the C-101 through to the striking modern lines of the A400M, the Andalusian aeronautical sector has undergone significant changes. Obviously, the further back in time the more evident these changes are, but even if we go back only 20 years there has been a marked progression in a number of fields:
After securing its leadership in Spain and Andalusia and subsequently joining the EADS Group, the company Construcciones Aeronáuticas, S.A. proceeded to update its production processes and related areas. At a time when the Cn-235 was making its maiden flight and the C-212 had completed its first million flying hours, the majority of its production was carried out by its own factories in Cádiz and Seville. However, projects such as the Cn-235 led to the manufacture of major aerostructures outside Spain by the alliance between CASA and nURTAnIO in Indonesia, paving the way for a new production model: subcontracting. EADS-CASA was conscious of the need for it to assume a role as the major manufacturer in Andalusia.
To do so, it had to optimise costs and focus on areas with high added value, as well as building awareness among newly established auxiliary companies to develop a strong network capable of assuming new challenges in the future.
This involved transfer of manufacturing standards, tools and processes, among other matters. Government support for the industry and the recent creation of Airbus Military has assisted this process, and today the subcontracting of production is highly diversified, not only for basic structures and installations but also for engineering and design of new work packages such as the A350. These subcontractors have also begun to expand and forge alliances to enable them to take on greater financial and production challenges and compete at an international level.
Similarly, the resources used have undergone incredible advances in recent years, progressing from the use of wooden manufacturing tools and significant manual labour such as sheet metalwork to the current facilities with automatic drilling and measurement systems using laser trackers and laser interferometers.
The facilities of final assembly lines, for example, have evolved from a single plant to various stations for the assembly of the different sections of the aircraft and tests of the systems as they are integrated using sophisticated and fully automated systems.
Subassemblies are integrated into the main sections after being fully equipped and tested on test beds which simulate the signals received by the completed aircraft, optimising costs and time and minimising risks. Another major advance is in relation to the use of computers. nowadays, instead of using original paper or microfilm documents for designs, standards, certifications and tests, all of these have now been digitised and form part of an interlinked manufacturing and business resource management system which can be accessed anywhere in the world as if you were in the factory.
Even staff training processes have completely changed. In the past, major manufacturers offered a training school focusing on the products manufactured which enabled apprentices to learn the different technology applied. The training was highly practical, and the workers who started out in the sector were very young (under the age of 16). There were very few official state qualifications, and accordingly the remaining positions had to be covered by company staff. nowadays, all of this training is offered by other entities such as trade unions and official authorities.
Fortunately, university studies are now more accessible to the general public for cultural, geographic and economic reasons, and the requirement to study languages is no longer the handicap it was in the past. However, given that not all aeronautical trades are contemplated by these courses, practical work experience with companies in the sector is also necessary, which provides a constant source of new staff.
In recent years, quality standards have become a constant feature of aeronautical manufacture, affecting every single part of an aircraft. Major manufacturers have been vital in the promotion of these quality standards, requiring collaborating companies to personally assume responsibility for the same in order to work in the sector. We have progressed from the early steps for the unification of criteria under ISO 9000 standards through to their full assimilation together with the latest updates of the same. This area will be further transformed following the establishment of the specific standards for the aerospace sector under En9100 and international bodies such as PRI-nADCAP for the mutual recognition of production capacities.
Technical advances have also assisted us in this area, enabling far more detailed inspections and checks than those in place a few years ago. Manufacturing requirements are stricter but the resources to ensure their correct application have developed as well. It is now possible to measure an aircraft without physically touching it, something which was unthinkable not so long ago. However, it is not just major manufacturers but also suppliers which have assumed this business model in response to market requirements. Mave Aeronáutica is a supplier of quality control services which has also made major contributions in this respect, enabling the combination of traditional inspection processes with innovative applications and consolidating the new technology introduced on the market.
The field of tooling is a good example, where inspections of assembly tools with traditional optical devices has now been superseded by a new generation of laser tracking systems which enable measurement of large areas with ease and digitised assembly platforms with subsequent reproduction of results, doing away with the need for cumbersome physical calibrators. Aerostructure inspection has improved to enable the display of results (diagrams, images, schemes etc) in previously unimaginable ways, including the creation of three-dimensional images of multiple variations to the parts being measured. In addition, MAVE works with equipment suppliers to improve the inspection processes of its customers, thereby optimising costs, providing added solidity to manufacturing processes and keeping up with market developments.
MAVE is a wholly Andalusian company which has been generating steady earnings and employment for the last nine years. It offers top-level aeronautical quality control services with maximum flexibility and the assurance of its extensive knowledge of the sector. As a consequence of all the above developments, today we can manufacture "athletic" aircraft which are larger, higher, faster, quieter and more environmentally friendly.
However, this is only the tip of the iceberg; new aircraft designs incorporate innovations such as composite materials, low fuel consumption and even research into new means of propulsion. At the same time, production resources are constantly changing, the experience and professionalism of workers in the industry continues to improve and the diversification of products manufactured on the world market has exceeded all expectations. All of these developments will ensure that Andalusia continues to grow in international importance, confirming its status as Europe´s third largest aeronautical cluster.