Versatile special solution for conversion of Airbus A330

Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH uses customised ZARGES docking system

Safety is a top priority when maintaining and converting aircrafts. Due to the large number of different aircraft types – and thus individualities of the fuselage designs – special docking systems are required to bring the assembly personnel safely and quickly to the machines. The partnership between Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH (Dresden) and access equipment expert ZARGES from Weilheim, Bavaria, demonstrates what a safe and efficient access solution can look like for the conversion of Airbus machines.

A new type of aircraft has been chosen as a candidate to be converted from a passenger plane to a cargo aircraft. Such extensive modification work can only be done by specialists well-versed in the field of aircraft conversion, such as Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH (EFW) from Dresden. The well-established company based in Saxony offers a wide range of aeronautical and technological services. They include the development and manufacture of flat lightweight components for all Airbus models, maintenance and repair work, engineering services, and conversion of passenger jets into freighters.

The preparation for a new conversion concept for the Airbus A330 began with a long lead time of four to five years.  "In the past, we used scaffolding solutions that were customised to each type of aircraft, in this case the A300. We wanted to be able to react more quickly to new requirements in future as well as to develop a concept that is as flexible as possible," says Andreas Kern, Head of Metal, Surface Treatment & Tool Services and a member of the interdisciplinary concept team at Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH. At this point, it was already clear that an assembly line concept should be implemented. From the outset, the decision was made that the solution should be highly versatile and should not only provide ideal conditions for structural work but also facilitate the tasks of other technical crews such as electricians and mechanics.

Joint development effort from the very beginning

During the search for a solution at the start of the project, it quickly became obvious there were no systems available on the market that were immediately suitable. Therefore, EFW straightaway approached potential partners to work on a solution together. "During the selection process, it was particularly crucial to us that our partner has broad expertise and many years of experience in the aviation sector," explains Andreas. "Furthermore, we wanted to involve our new partner early on in the design of the hangar in order to ensure that the solution takes into account all requirements with regard to production flow, space and installation." The aircraft maker shortlisted a total of nine potential candidates and invited them to present their expertise and ability during a face-to-face meeting. In the end, ZARGES emerged as the new partner of EFW. "We were especially impressed by how close the designers work with their customers when developing solutions as well as by the fact that all our needs were addressed during planning," Andreas emphasises.

Precise docking system by ZARGES

Besides standard solutions, ZARGES also offers flexible modular systems for aircraft maintenance that can be designed and configured to the specifications of each customer – with the ability to optimally fit the contour of various aircraft models. The modular systems stand out with their ease of assembly, flexible combination options and reliable aircraft access. Prior to full production, ZARGES first created a prototype of the docking system at the request of EFW. The aim was to let the fitters try out the solution and evaluate its usability. After this trial, the aircraft maker was more than convinced by the docking system.

"The ZARGES docking system has enabled us to be much more flexible and to react accordingly to new conversion work," says Andreas. The bespoke docking system for EFW comprises several modules that can be combined as required and have up to three levels. The system has the following distinctive features: ease of assembly and disassembly, flexible modules that can be combined as required as well as safe state-of-the-art access for workers. The modules can also be transported quickly using existing cranes in the hangar, thus allowing them to be moved from one aircraft to another without first having to undock an aircraft. Furthermore, there are plans to use conveyors to connect the modules to a logistics area located at the end of the hangar in 2022. This integration into the overall logistics concept and the creation of work space right beside an aircraft will shorten routes within the hangar and hence optimise the workflow.

"This project was particularly exciting for us because we were able to work very closely with EFW right from the beginning, starting with the design of the hangar," says Martina Moritz, ZARGES Product Manager for Work and Maintenance Platforms. "Our proximity to Dresden, where one of our production facilities is located, was no doubt an advantage for our project with Elbe Flugzeugwerke." Together, we have developed and implemented a docking system that increases the efficiency of aircraft conversion and forms the basis for future expansion to other aircraft models thanks to the system's flexibility."

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About Elbe Flugzeugwerke

Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH (EFW) bundles various aerospace and technology activities under one roof: development and manufacture of fibre composite components for aircraft structures and interior fittings for the entire Airbus family, conversion of passenger aircraft into cargo aircraft, maintenance and repair of Airbus aircraft as well as engineering services in the context of certification and approval. The company employs around 1,600 people and generated sales of almost 300 million euro in 2019. www.efw.aero

About ZARGES GmbH

ZARGES GmbH, based in Weilheim in Upper Bavaria, is a global player with a workforce of approximately 800 and 3 production sites in Europe. Innovative technologies and established experience with high-quality aluminium make ZARGES a leading company in the three major business sectors Access - Packaging, Transportation, Storage - Special Constructions. ZARGES products combine the multiple benefits of the light metal material aluminium such as high stability with low weight, corrosion resistance and flexibility of use. ZARGES has the right product for every need and can also offer customised solutions. Regardless of whether they are from the service, retail, skilled trades or business sector or are private individuals: our customers value ZARGES as a reliable partner and benefit from the quality, expertise and comprehensive service that they enjoy for many years after purchasing ZARGES products. More information: www.zarges.com