An easy-to-use testing tool for inspecting the composite airframe of Airbus’ popular A350 XWB jetliner has become a commercial success itself, with key airline customers ordering the device to support their daily operations.
Named the Line Tool, this ultrasound system is used to inspect an A350 in the event of impact shocks. These can occur at airports if, for example, catering trucks, baggage loaders or other vehicles make hard contact with an aircraft.
Easily portable in a small-sized suitcase, the Line Tool offers a simple and cost-effective solution for on-site inspections, and can be utilised by airline personnel who are not experts in composite materials. In addition, Line Tool employs the non-destructive testing (NDT) principle that allows damage assessments to be made without affecting the fuselage or wing area that is examined.
“The Line Tool delivers an automatic diagnosis, which means that airlines can carry out their own tests straight away,” explained Patrick Métayer, the head of non-destructive testing at Airbus.
A350 XWB customers ordering the inspection units to date are Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Finnair, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, TAM and Vietnam Airlines – which are acquiring a combined total of 70 systems from Airbus Customer Services.
The Line Tool has been developed and commercialized using competencies from across the Airbus Group. Launched by Airbus in advance of the A350 XWB’s service entry, the system benefitted from structural health engineering capabilities of Airbus Group Innovations, the corporate-level research and technology network. TESTIA – the Airbus Group’s non-destructive testing and training subsidiary – has been involved in the product’s industrialization for Airbus Customer Services.
In producing the A350 XWB jetliner family, Airbus uses carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) in more than 50 percent of the aircraft’s fuselage, wings and tail, providing the composite material’s benefits of lighter weight, as well as resistance to corrosion and fatigue.
To further pursue non-destructive inspection concepts for airlines, Airbus is developing a similar solution for more “classic” metallic airframes. Called the Clad Tool, this follow-on device already is applied internally in Airbus final assembly line applications, and will be offered to customers beginning this summer.