Smart Trolley: when nacelles and engines are fated to be mated
The assembly team at Safran Nacelles in Toulouse came up with the "Smart Trolley" concept to facilitate the integration (or "mating") of the propulsion system, comprising the engine itself plus its protective nacelle. This innovative solution allows them to keep pace with the heady production rate of nacelles intended for the LEAP-1A engines powering the Airbus A320neo… not to mention setting a new record for assembly speed!
Smart Trolley in the news
Stéphanie, a reporter for a major business and industry news magazine, came to the Safran Nacelles plant in Toulouse to interview Serge, head of integration operations, and Jean-François, one of the fitters on the assembly line.
In fact, as she enters the assembly shop, Jean-François is in the process of moving an impressive handling cart with a difference: the Smart Trolley!
Jean-François easily directs this innovative trolley, loaded with a LEAP-1A engine, towards his own workstation, in the nacelle integration shop. The engine recently arrived from Safran Aircraft Engines' Villaroche plant in the greater Paris area.
"Thanks to its four steerable wheels, I can pull it or push it using a small electric tractor, to move it over long distances, he explains to the reporter.
Stéphanie takes a couple photos of the technician in front of his touch screen, located on the side of the trolley. With a simple touch of his finger, Jean-François can turn the engine 45° to one side or the other, tilt it forwards or backwards, and even raise it to a height of 2.4 meters (about 8 feet).
The Smart Trolley has completely changed my job!
Before, I had to adapt to the engine, meaning I had to get into position to work on it, by bending down, getting on a ladder, kneeling, sliding under it and other awkward positions. Today, I no longer have to be a gymnast! It's the engine that puts itself within reach. I simply remain standing while I carry out all the operations needed to mate the engine and nacelle.
Big time savings!
Stéphanie then turns to Serge, head of integration operations, who explains:
While the Smart Trolley obviously improves working comfort, efficiency and safety for our mechanics and fitters, it also saves us precious time.
A moveable platform on the trolley actually holds the engine, and floats on an air cushion for easy handling. This has reduced the time needed to mate the nacelle to the engine and onto the engine pylon, under the aircraft wing, to less than 10 minutes, versus three to four hours previously with the traditional overhead gantries, hoists, etc. The Smart Trolley eliminated all these non-productive hours, making it a vital factor in boosting the company's performance.
And how did you come up with the concept for this device? asks Stéphanie.
Serge says with a grin:
Right on the shop floor! It was the people in our assembly team who designed this innovative new-generation trolley, to allow us to boost our production rates to keep pace with A320neo sales.
A buzzing hive of creativity
Jean-François continues explaining the birth of this project:
About a year ago, when the first LEAP-1A engines came into our shop, we knew we had to come up with different procedures that would improve our efficiency. So we created a task force with three people from the shop.
Our main objective was to find a system that would enable us to take charge of the engine from the time it was delivered all the way to its mounting under the wing of the airplane – without ever having to take it off the handling support.
Our second objective was to increase speed and autonomy by facilitating the fitter's work on the engine.
As Jean-François explains,
We first built a model using bits of cardboard and cork. Then we designed a full-scale model with pieces we found here and there. It wasn't always simple, but by sticking to our original objective, we were able to develop the Smart Trolley.
Then it was the turn of Excent, an established supplier to Safran Nacelles, to construct the trolley in line with all the technical and regulatory requirements as listed in the specifications drawn up by the task force.
Today, about 20 Smart Trolleys are already in operation at Safran Nacelles plants in Toulouse and Hamburg. They are also fitted with chips to precisely track their movements and facilitate logistics.
The reporter has finished her interviews and Serge walks with her to the exit… where a Smart Trolley and its engine are being loaded onto a truck, which will head for an Airbus plant where an A320neo under construction is awaiting its propulsion system.
Thanks to the many advantages of this solution, several fellow Safran companies have already shown a keen interest in the Smart Trolley, adds Serge with pride.
This type of trolley could eventually be used for other applications as well, such as the manufacture of landing gear, or ‘on-wing' maintenance at airlines.
That would also be well-deserved recognition for the people who invented this concept and brought it to fruition here. And I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my team of especially creative and committed people.