In 2014 Airbus opened the A350 Customer Definition Centre in Hamburg to help its customers better plan interiors for their new aircraft. With the expansion of the Airspace common design elements to the A330neo and A320neo lines the space needed to expand to further those opportunities. This week the company officially inaugurated the expanded and renamed Airspace Customer Definition Centre (ACDC), adding more than 4,500 square meters to the facility and more than doubling the number of airlines that can be accommodated for design sessions.
With the ability of the A320-Family aircraft to serve long-range routes and the A330neo evolution, the cabins of these aircraft families have become more specific and are subject to intense customization. Since today four out of five A350 XWB customers are simultaneously A320/A330 operators this step is a win-win-situation for all involved stakeholders to foster and streamline the cabin definition across their fleet.– Sören Scholz, Airbus Senior Vice President Cabin & Cargo Programme
The value of the facility comes on multiple fronts. One element is the ability to quickly and easily bring all the relevant parties together in Hamburg for the necessary meetings. Sören Scholz, SVP Cabin & Cargo Programs for Airbus, described the facility location as “where the center of gravity for the engineering around the cabins sits. This is the place where you find the maximum competencies,” including Airbus resources and external partners.
To that end, the company does not expect to see additional ACDC facilities elsewhere in the world. But it does anticipate growing the aircraft included. Sören noted that Airbus “should not differentiate away from the A220” in that context, though a specific timeline for including it in the Airspace design language is unclear.
Going Digital at the Airbus Airspace Customer Definition Centre
Beyond having the right people all together the ACDC brings significant technology into play. It is a digital-first operation, with heavy reliance on technology to help speed decision making and validate plans before systems are ordered and installation begins. Stefan Römelt, SVP Engineering and Head of the Cabin & Cargo Center of Competence for Airbus, explains that the “application of digital means we are pushing forward not only design but also manufacturing and assembly.” Being faster to market and more responsive to airline customer needs is a big deal when competing for aircraft deals.
Some of that technology manifests in the heavy use of virtual reality and augmented systems at the ACDC. A single user can don a headset to “walk around” in a cabin and get a feel for the position of monuments or the different fabric color options. A group can take advantage of facilities like the Projection Room where a cabin layout is cast onto the floor. Arrangements can be quickly and easily modified to sample layouts. Galley carts can roll through the virtual aisle, helping airlines understand what works and what does not.
Römelt further noted the value in quickly getting to a feasible cabin design, with minor tweaks with each revision, “Instead of doing things only in sequence we can run in parallel. We discover issues earlier in the design process.”
The digital rendering translates to what the company calls a digital mock-up (DMU) process. With the Airspace Customer Definition Centre in play an “early” version of that process (eDMU) now accelerates the involvement of Airbus engineering resources by roughly six months. That means more time to discover potential design conflicts. It brings a half year of additional time to consider aircraft certification challenges and how to meet them with small adjustments to the design. Airlines can simulate the certification process in a 3D rendering to identify red flags that must be fixed before the design is locked and hardware is ordered for final assembly. Airbus executives and engineers cited multiple examples of successes with this work in the first few years the program has been available to airlines, saving time and costly rework.
The ultimate goals for Airbus are twofold. The company wants to easy the process of delivering cabins with a similar design feel across the product line. And it wants to cut the time to produce that experience, as well as the costs. It is not alone on that front, of course. But with the Airspace unified design language running across types and consolidation of the airline customer experience process into a single, highly digital space, it is making huge strides to lead on this front.
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