British Aerospace’s military aircraft division this week opened a High Tech Tooling Centre at Salmesbury, Lancashire part of a two-year, £100m investment programme for Eurofighter production.
BAe also confirmed it will build two of five pre-production Eurofighters at its Warton plant in Lancashire. Germany, Italy and Spain will assemble only one aircraft each.
Long-lead items for the five aircraft are already on order, and construction of the Eurofighters begins this year.
The new tooling centre is key to the success of the project, according to BAe director of internal supply Phil Blundell. ‘Eurofighter is designed like no other aircraft. Over 22,000 tools will be needed to previously unheard of tolerances,’ he said.
The centre is the first tangible demonstration of BAe’s operational efficiency improvement programme. This brings together lean manufacturing and teamworking techniques within the factory and with outside suppliers, with the aim of cutting costs and improving quality.
Centrepiece of the facility is a DS Technologie five axis CNC machine with a cutting envelope of 8m 4.5m 1.5m, and a smaller but similar machine which together cost £4.5m. BAe worked with DS Technologie to improve volumetric tolerance from 120 m to within the 70 m required for Eurofighter.
How people develop and innovate using the technology will be as important as the technology itself, said Blundell.
The production go-ahead for 620 aircraft for the British, German, Italian and Spanish air forces was given last December, after Germany approved the £40bn programme after long delays.