Working with HPM to Make Airbus’ New Final Assembly Line in Mobile a Success

Airbus is expanding their footprint in Mobile. Based on the success of the initial A320 program in Mobile, which is averaging five planes per month assembled, a new facility for the A220 aircraft is under construction. This LEED

Silver final assembly line and delivery facility project is being commissioned by Sain Engineering Associates (SEA). For SEA, this project will stand as a case study of how commissioning assures interoperability of system elements and timely coordination of responsibilities to stay on schedule.

This project is a vote of confidence for the workforce of Mobile, as it will be one of only two A220 final assembly and delivery points in the world. “After winning the contract, we became involved as the first stakes were being driven on the site,” said SEA’s project lead Bert Ward, CEM. “With a LEED project of such scope, myself and another engineer have spent most of our time here with a support team back home in Birmingham.” The two hangars that comprise the new facility represent more than 300,000 square feet; coordination and cooperation are essential.

Ward explained that SEA uses a cloud-based software system, which streamlines communications between the Owner, contractors and the commissioning team. Ward said that this means all parties are best prepared when it comes time for functional testing and feedback. “For example, if we test the HVAC and have an issue with a piece of equipment—we won’t know if that is a controls issue or mechanical—both the mechanical and controls contractor will be involved in the solution,” he said.

Airbus, their program manager and general contractor have taken equal responsibility for balancing what Ward describes as the three pillars of any project: Scope, Schedule and Budget.  The commissioning process helps balance these three pillars. “At weekly Owner-Architect-Contractor meetings, we are given a chance to give open feedback and to stay on schedule despite any minor changes,” he said. “Sometimes, material may be changed that will modify the construction schedule and where we fit in a necessary commissioning test.”  SEA prides itself on enhancing the construction process by working with these changes in-stride.

The final assembly line of aircraft facility deals with thousands of individual components and specifically timed operations that all greatly affect Airbus’ bottom line. Ward said, “For example, conditioned air is needed to keep fuselage electronics at a safe temperature—if the air temperature is not tightly maintained, it would damage the system.”  Commissioning ensures the facility and assembly line are working at their optimum capacity prior to the first aircraft being produced.

The more complex and expensive the operations, the more important it is to have the project properly tested. Ward notes that interoperability is critical for Airbus, checking such things as whether or not the critical alarms will turn off the air handling unit when required and if the assembly line systems are communicating with the building management system; thus, the role of the commissioning team.

The commissioning process continues beyond the construction substantial completion until a (typical) one-year warranty walk-through occurs, to ensure systems are still performing as planned.

“The ultimate test of success is that operations run smoothly and all of our measurements and tests prove accurate,” said Ward. “Enlightened owners know to take the commissioning seriously or risk having expensive interruptions that can be costly and baffling once production begins.”

Considering that the aircrafts produced in this facility will sell to customers such as Delta or JetBlue Airlines for several million dollars, and it will employee 400 workers, Ward said, “This is the kind of project that keeps us energized about the impact of commissioning.”

For us, this project has two great benefits that will go beyond our pride in a job well done: the first benefit, a LEED Silver facility that is properly commissioned will set a standard for savings and better energy practices for other industries in our state. Second, the success of this facility will be a boon on the workforce of Alabama for years to come. Once the new facility is at full production, Airbus plans to build four A220 aircraft per month in Mobile.

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