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Industry 4.0: innovation applied to LEAP® engine assembly


In the last few years, the digital transformation has had a profound impact on Safran Aircraft Engines and its production facilities. These innovative technologies have a threefold objective, driving improvements in quality, productivity and HSE. Here, we take a look at the LEAP* assembly lines at our Villaroche site.

Pulse line dedicated to final assembly of LEAP engines

Safran Aircraft Engines has booked orders for over 18,000 LEAPs since its commercial launch in 2011. For our company, this engine is assembled in Building 35 at our Villaroche site, 35 miles southeast of Paris. In this 35,000 square meter (over 376,000 sq. ft) hanger, Industry 4.0 is a working reality. Machinery and equipment on the LEAP assembly lines has been optimized by the input of top startups specializing in augmented reality, cobotics** and deep learning.

At the heart of Building 35 is the LEAP pulse line, which measures 60 meters (197 ft) long and 20 meters (66 ft) wide. It's a real showcase of our capabilities and expertise! The movement of each engine down the line is managed by touchscreens, while the articulated assembly stands used for overhead handling allow it to rotate on its horizontal axis to eliminate working at height. These lines were designed on the basis of feedback from operators and significantly improve workspace ergonomics. They meet three key requirements for Safran Aircraft Engines: workstation ergonomics and safety, quality and performance.

Operators can also count on augmented reality (AR) to assist them at the various stages of final assembly. Drawing on this Industry 4.0 technology, they use a screen to follow instructions from the digital model of the LEAP, which are superimposed on a real-time video feed of the engine. AR visually displays the exact location and positioning of each part in the assembly process. At the end of each step, detection software checks that all components have been correctly fitted and connected.

The digital model of our engines is a key to the digital transformation of production. Initially, information from the digital model is used to guide fitters through each task, reducing the risk of errors, improving productivity and fostering skills development. Subsequently, the digital model and accompanying documentation is expanded with data fed back by operators at each inspection point. This two-way process is inspired by the principles of deep learning.

Other lines, other innovative technologies. Three rolling lines have been installed for assembly of the LEAP fan module, which is quite a specific process. The fan is attached to a lifting cart, which moves from one workstation to the next, instead of operators having to move. This reduces the need for parts handling and the number of tools, optimizes workspaces and improves ergonomics and safety. The cart has a camera, guidance system and RFID tags, which allow it to move autonomously. It also lets operators raise, turn or tip the module more easily and position it more precisely for assembly of each part.

The digital transformation also means robots for some tasks. In the FAST cell, robots now prepare the various stages of the low-pressure turbine nozzle. As well as significant time savings, this kind of automation reduces ergonomic constraints and eliminates a low-value-added manual operations, so operators can focus on higher-value tasks.

Another sector, another innovation. At the Customer Delivery Center, teams perform a final compliance check on each engine. They use a cobot, which takes a series of pictures from various angles at predefined inspection points, then uses AR to compare these images with the digital model of the LEAP. A cobot can check 460 inspection points an hour and six engines a day. This automated system works in conjunction with human quality controllers.

The dynamic of the digital transformation underpins our company's ultimate objective: customer satisfaction, for planemakers and operators alike.


LEAP* : The LEAP is designed and built by CFM, a 50/50 joint company between Safran Aircraft Engines and GE, to power new-generation single-aisle commercial jets

Cobotics** : Cobotics combines the abilities of a robot (strength, precision, repeatability) with the specific skills of a human (know-how, analysis, decisions).