by Staff Writers
Palmdale, CA (SPX) Mar 18, 2011
Northrop Grumman took a significant step in transitioning the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to full-rate production with the March 1 start-up of the company's integrated assembly line (IAL) in Palmdale.
In a ceremony for employees, company officials cut the ribbon on the new IAL and began utilizing the line later in the day. Inspired by automation systems used by automakers, the IAL was designed and developed by Northrop Grumman, working with Detroit-based KUKA Systems Corporation's Aerospace Division, a commercial automation integrator.
"Starting the integrated assembly line is an important step, but it's just the first among several that will lead to a streamlined, efficient system that will help produce the most capable, most advanced multi-role fighter in the world," said Mark Tucker, vice president, F-35 program, Northrop Grumman Corporation. "The IAL will be the key factor in the future production of this aircraft."
The new IAL occupies a space near the current F-35 assembly line in Northrop Grumman's Palmdale Manufacturing Center and includes automatic assembly tool systems, transportation systems and manufacturing systems, all controlled centrally and wirelessly by a factory communications system. The company anticipates it will produce its first entire fuselage early in 2012. Until then, work will continue using both the IAL and existing line.
"Since the very beginning, Northrop Grumman's role in producing the world's most advanced fighter has included highly trained personnel and high-precision systems, and the IAL carries on this mission," said Tommy Tomlinson, sector vice president, production operations, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems sector.
Tomlinson also noted that 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the start of operations at the Palmdale facility.
"We're beginning a new era of production, and it's fitting that it's taking place during such a milestone year for the Palmdale facility," Tomlinson said.
At its heart, the IAL is designed to drive new levels of efficiency into the manufacturing process, an endeavor that includes reducing process times, increasing precision and quality, and reducing the costs of production.
"Our industry partner and our military customer are striving now more than ever before to improve the overall affordability of our products and services, and the IAL represents a major step forward for us in this effort," said Duke Dufresne, sector vice president and general manager of the Strike and Surveillance Systems Division of Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector.
"As innovative as this line is, and as game-changing as we predict it will be in the future when it's operating at full capacity, we'll still continue to look for ways to improve how we do things."
As a principal and founding member of the F-35 industry team led by Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman is responsible for the design and production of center fuselages for all three variants of F-35 aircraft: conventional takeoff and landing; short takeoff, vertical landing; and the carrier variant.
All F-35 center fuselages currently are being assembled in Palmdale. In addition to producing the F-35 center fuselage, Northrop Grumman also designed and produces the aircraft's radar and other key avionics including electro-optical and communications subsystems; develops mission systems and mission-planning software; leads the team's development of pilot and maintenance training system courseware; and manages the team's use, support and maintenance of low-observable technologies.
To date, Northrop Grumman has delivered 42 center fuselages. Final assembly of all F-35 jets is performed by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, a process that includes mating the center fuselage to an aft fuselage produced by BAE systems; and the forward fuselage, cockpit and wings produced by Lockheed Martin.
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