A long and memorable production series is coming to an end at Patria – early this year, Airbus announced that it will discontinue the manufacture of A380 airliners. The spoilers of this aircraft have been made by Patria’s Aerostructures Business Unit at Halli since 2005.
All in all, Patria produced spoilers for about 260 of these superjumbos. The finishing touches will be put on the last spoilers next year.
The project began back in 1997 when Patria decided to join the pan-European Airbus business.
When Juha Mäkelä transferred from Konecranes to Patria as a young engineer (MSc., Mechanical Engineering), he jumped right into the heart of the action. After a few weeks of rapid orientation, Mäkelä found himself in Toulouse, France, where Airbus is headquartered. There, Patria’s five-person design team developed a traditional metal-composite spoiler structure for Airbus’ requirements. Mäkelä explains that a spoiler gets its name because it “spoils” the lift of a wing when an aircraft lands and boosts braking power.
At the same time, another Patria design team in Espoo developed a full-composite spoiler structure. The two teams competed not only against each other, but also to develop a product that Airbus would accept.
“We had a great drive,” Mäkelä says.
“We understood that Airbus would enable us to get into an entirely new kind of business.”
Picketers and weight control
Mäkelä worked in France for a couple of years. He particularly remembers massive strikes during which lorry drivers protested by blocking highways and roundabouts.
While he was driving the design team’s car during one of these protests, Mäkelä got stuck in a roundabout, unable to go forward or backward. He tried to negotiate with a nasty picketer, but got nowhere.
“He just gestured that he couldn’t care less. I was driving a tiny car, a ridiculous thing, and had three or four guys packed in there. I put the car into first, hit the gas, and swerved onto the grass – and mowed down some of the flowers planted in front of the Airbus headquarters.”
The picketer could only stare in astonishment when the Finns waved at him as they sped away.
The work in Toulouse yielded results. At the end of the concept development phase, a decision was taken to patent the spoiler created by Mäkelä’s team and to include it in the tender, which Patria finally won.
A design team with dozens of members was assembled in Tampere to carry out detailed structural design. Mäkelä was appointed to head it up.
One major consideration in the spoiler design process was to keep its weight under control. Airbus demanded further reductions to the spoiler weight many times during the design process.
“An A380 spoiler shipset weighs several hundreds of kilos, yet its weight had to be reduced by dozens of kilos when the final structural design was carried out in 2002-2003,” he says.
A mature product
Over the years, dozens of Patria employees have worked on the A380 project. To give you an idea of the scale of this effort, Mäkelä lists the professionals required during its design and production: structural, manufacturing, workflow and tool designers, material and weight management specialists, configuration management experts, stress engineers, cost controllers, team supervisors, chief engineers, project and sales managers, experts in procurement, quality assurance, airworthiness and testing, product support specialists and ICT system experts.
In addition, over the years, dozens of production professionals have turned the designs into a physical object.
“The production of the A380 spoiler is manual labour-intensive – and thus demands expertise and precision,” says Kilpeläinen.
Some Patria employees have been involved in the project from day one and have developed in their job over the years.
Series production of the spoilers at Halli began in 2005. Over the years, Patria has honed the spoiler production process to a very mature level.
“Once the development programmes had arrived at a solid design for the spoiler, its series production did not require too much white-collar support,” says Mikko Kilpeläinen, SVP, Operations at Aerostructures.
He joined the company in 2004 to finalise the testing required for series production.
“It’s a bit of a shame that the product is being discontinued – it is already so mature that it would’ve been nice to keep its series production going,” says Kilpeläinen.
A major project
Juha Mäkelä says that Patria’s Aerostructures business took a huge leap forwards in the space of 20 years thanks to the A380 project in terms of its ability to operate internationally in a highly competitive business environment.
Due to the A380 project, large-scale investments have been made in the Halli production facilities and processes. In addition, Patria has achieved Tier 1 status in the Airbus design community.
“We’ve convinced Airbus that we can operate competitively in the global supplier network,” says Kilpeläinen.
Both Kilpeläinen and Mäkelä are a bit melancholic about the ending of the project.
“I feel that I’m part of this story and proud of it,” says Kilpeläinen.
Mäkelä in turn considers the spoiler as being a bit like his own child. He has since worked in many different Patria units and is currently a HX fighter project industrial participation business development specialist at the Aviation Business Unit.“I feel that the Airbus project gave me a great springboard for my career at Patria