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On board with quality

Posted 17 April 2018 · Add Comment

Systems manufacturer Liebherr-Aerospace enjoys an unblemished reputation for quality, thanks to hard work, continuous investment and a long-term vision. Chuck Grieve has been finding out more.

The factories of Leibherr-Aerospace in Germany and France are spotless, modern and well organised – just like the company itself.
Liebherr, the family-owned group with interests ranging from aerospace and construction to hotels and household appliances, is a progressive organisation with a long-term approach to business and customer relationships. Its aerospace division, established in 1960, is one of the world’s leading suppliers in this competitive sector.
“We are one of the few worldwide companies able to provide full systems to our airframer customers,” said Josef Gropper, managing director and chief operating officer for production, purchasing and asset investments.
Liebherr concentrates on five areas: air management, flight control and actuation, landing gear, gears and gearboxes, and electronics.
Its systems fly on wide-bodied aircraft, commuter aircraft, regional jets, business jets, military aircraft and helicopters of almost all major airframers. “We are on board most of the major aircraft programmes launched over the last 20 years,” said Gropper.
In terms of volume, the Airbus A320 is the most important of the many current programmes for Liebherr. It is also on the Boeing 777X, Bombardier C-Series, Embraer E-Jet, and the Rolls-Royce UltraFan programmes, the latter signalling a move into the aero engine market.
In addition, Liebherr-Aerospace offers extensive customer services based on a worldwide network with repair and maintenance services, technical support, documentation and spare parts logistics. Customers in Africa are looked after directly by its OEM facilities in Lindenberg, Germany, and in Toulouse, France.
The company opened a logistics centre in Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZ) in 2015 to stock parts and line replacement units, a move it described as “an important milestone” in its strategy of developing “enhanced support” for airline customers.
If there’s a secret to Liebherr’s success, it could be the company’s huge investments in research and development and testing. Last year, the aerospace and transportation division invested about €70 million ($82.1m) in R&D: more than 17% of revenue and “far above the industry average”.
One result, Gropper said proudly, is Liebherr’s 100% record for delivery of systems to Airbus. So rigorous is Liebherr’s attention to detail in manufacturing, assembly and testing that it is one of a small number of suppliers whose components are delivered directly to the Airbus assembly line.
Each of Liebherr-Aerospace’s four manufacturing sites – at Lindenberg and Friedrichshafen in Germany, and Toulouse and Campsas in France – has benefited from the investment and continuous improvement that is the company’s hallmark. New assembly lines and work stations featuring state-of-the-art manufacturing technology and testing facilities are up-and-running at each site.
Despite its size, Liebherr remains a private company; the descendants of the founder, Hans Liebherr, are active in its management. Their involvement, said Gropper, encourages long-term thinking and a high level of investment in technology. It is what drives the company’s embrace of ‘industry 4.0’ with its emphasis on automation, seamless human-machine interface, paperless working and sustainability.
Evidence of this is clear in all the Liebherr-Aerospace factories. In Lindenberg, for example, radio frequency identification (RFID) is being introduced in 2018 for order tracking and management. That work dovetails with sophisticated part labelling for Airbus and Boeing. Quality testing of the labelling system is under way on Airbus types.
People are important to Liebherr, and it pays dividends in quality management. By reorganising shop floor management, integrating traditional white and blue-collar roles and responsibilities – involving machine minders in redesign of assembly lines, for example – and breaking down silos with cross-functional meetings, the company has increased its ability to detect and deal with potential issues.
Liebherr-Aerospace’s relentless R&D includes two additive manufacturing (AM) development cells, in Lindenberg and Toulouse. Working with Airbus, it has created critical parts (in this case, a flight control actuator) and installed it on the A380 – a world-first. The focus now is on industrialising the process.
The company is also involved in the European more electric aircraft (MEA) initiative. Prototypes of fully electrical air-conditioning systems flew on an ATR regional turboprop and A320 in 2016.
In its OEM role, Liebherr-Aerospace has been “accompanying” its customers in the development of their products.
“Together with them,” said Gropper, “we’re preparing the next generation of aircraft. Our technologies will be there to make their aircraft a reality.”
 

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