Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) took a momentous leap in transitioning the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to full-rate production with the March 1 launch of the firm’s integrated assembly line in Palmdale, Calif.
In a ceremony for employees, company officials cut the ribbon on the new IAL and began using it later that day. Inspired by automation systems used by automakers, Northrop Grumman worked KUKA Systems Corporation‘s Aerospace Division to design and develop the product.
Although an important step, starting the integrated assembly line is just one step among several to streamline a system that will help produce “the most capable, most advanced multirole fighter in the world,” said Mark Tucker, vice president, F-35 program, Northrop Grumman Corporation.
“The IAL will be the key factor in the future production of this aircraft,” he added.
The company expects 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 created to drive new levels of efficiency into the manufacturing process, an endeavor that includes cutting down on process times, enhancing precision and quality, and clipping production costs.
“As innovative as this line is, and as game-changing as we predict it will be in the future when it’s operating at full capacity, we’ll still continue to look for ways to improve how we do things,” said Duke Dufresne, sector vice president and general manager of the Strike and Surveillance Systems Division of Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector.