The integrated assembly line in Palmdale, Calif., inspired by the automation systems used in the auto industry, was designed and developed by Northrop Grumman, working with Detroit's KUKA Systems Corp.'s Aerospace Division, a commercial automation integrator.
"Starting the integrated assembly line is an important step but it's just the first among several that will lead to a streamlined, efficient system that will help produce the most capable, most advanced multi-role fighter in the world," said Mark Tucker, vice president, F-35 program at Northrop Grumman. "The IAL will be the key factor in the future production of this aircraft."
The new IAL occupies a space near the F-35 assembly line in Northrop Grumman's Palmdale Manufacturing Center and includes automatic assembly tool systems, transportation systems and manufacturing systems, all controlled centrally and wirelessly by a factory communications system. The company anticipates it will produce its first entire fuselage early in 2012. Until then, work will continue using both the IAL and existing line.
The IAL is designed to drive new levels of efficiency into the manufacturing process, an endeavor that includes reducing process times, increasing precision and quality and reducing the costs of production, the company said.
As a member of the F-35 industry team led by Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman is responsible for the design and production of center fuselages for all three variants of F-35 aircraft. It also produces the aircraft's radar and other key avionics systems.
To date, Northrop Grumman has delivered 42 center fuselages to Lockheed Martin.