On the Airbus shopfloor in Toulouse, France, when an A330 gets its wings, it’s still not yet ready to fly. Before any aircraft can leave the factory, its interior cabin must meet each air carrier’s distinct design specifications, including the positioning and number of airplane seats.
During one particularly labor-intensive stage of the final assembly line, Airbus workers crouch on the floor of an A330’s cavernous fuselage to mark—by hand—where each plane seat will be placed. Given the intense demand for Airbus planes, any mistakes can be enormously costly in terms of lost time and productivity.
Two years ago, a project team from Accenture stepped into an A330 moving through the final assembly line and witnessed this arduous process. They immediately recognized the potential to update it.
Within a month, Accenture and the Airbus assembly line workers developed a proof of concept: augmented reality smart glasses to guide seat marking. The technology’s myriad benefits—improved productivity, safety and accuracy, to name a few—would streamline operations.
This focus on finding digital solutions to modernize the manufacturing process emerged from Accenture’s Industry X.0 vision to digitally drive efficiency and pinpoint new sources of growth. The glasses showed, beyond a doubt, that smart, connected systems open doors for business and workers.
Historically, assembly line workers relied on a printed manual to guide them through the customization of each aircraft. With augmented reality glasses, real-time data and instantaneous feedback help workers mark seats faster and more efficiently.
Here’s how it works: The glasses scan a barcode at the start of the job to retrieve data from the cloud for the assigned assembly line operation. The workers can control the interface with voice commands, such as “Move left.” The connected glasses display all the information required to help an operator mark the floor faster, as well as verify a confirmed seat marking with 100 percent accuracy to the millimeter.
It’s the first time a major aircraft carrier has ever used wearable tech on the final assembly line. This year, in recognition of their work, Airbus and Accenture received the "Best Mobile Solution for Enterprise Award" at the Mobile World Congress Global Mobile Awards. While the smart glasses have transformed Airbus’s core operations, they’re also sparking new improvements and ideas throughout the company.
Final assembly of an A330 includes marking the number and position of each seat, a complex step in cabin furnishing that varies with each plane.
The tedious process of marking where a seat would be placed by hand was a huge pain point and an obvious area where digital could help tremendously.
Julio Juan Prieto
Aerospace & Defense Managing Director
At first, Airbus employees reacted to the glasses in one of two ways. The younger generation was eager to use the glasses, with one employee even excited about this new “robot” vision that would help them work faster. Meanwhile the senior operators needed convincing that they would benefit from the technology.
To address any concerns, the Accenture team sought extensive employee input on everything from the design of the glasses to the training process and incorporated the insights into the final rollout.
Since their introduction to the final assembly line, the glasses have improved worker productivity in the cabin seat marking process per aircraft by 500 percent and reduced errors to zero. The glasses make work go faster, plus operators are more engaged. And it's become clear that the tech could provide workers with more opportunities beyond front-line repetitive tasks.
Imagine the implications if these glasses are applied to jobs beyond seat marking. Workers can be trained for tasks they couldn’t do previously, and companies have greater flexibility in how they build and use teams.
“Just put the glasses on your nose for 10 minutes, and you learn a new skill,” Aerospace & Defense Managing Director Julio Juan Prieto said.
The data the glasses generate, for instance, could lead to additional manufacturing improvements, such as smart, instantaneous feedback that guides other parts of the aircraft building process and self-monitored quality control. Beyond manufacturing, the glasses could potentially minimize maintenance issues by providing remote industrial fleet support and perhaps even reduce pesky plane delays due to mechanical issues. When airplanes are waiting at the gate, technicians could more efficiently collaborate with other experts, showing them what they see through their glasses, instead of relying on telephone or in-person consultations.
Digital is not here to remove people from the assembly line. Digital is here to equip people to become more efficient with more abilities.
Aerospace & Defense Managing Director
Today, Accenture and Airbus have a five-year partnership, and Accenture serves as the official partner for Airbus’ assembly line. Both sides see the collaboration as just the beginning.
“When there’s a clear business case for a new technology, we move quickly,” Prieto said. It’s all driven by the firm’s Industry X.0 vision – smart, connected digital technologies adding value and creating even more sources of growth. “It’s a ‘digital everyday, everywhere’ mindset.”