Next Generation Wide Bodies and the Trans-Atlantic Supply Chain: The Spirit Plant Opens in North Carolina


A Visit to Spirit’s Newest Plant in Kinston, North Carolina  

The trans-Atlantic supply chain has been a central part of the success of both Boeing and Airbus.  Ranging from engines to airframes, suppliers on both sides of the Atlantic have been central to the US and European based manufacturers.  Nowhere is this truer than in the new generation wide-bodies being built by Boeing, the 787, or the Airbus A350.  

Dan Wheeler During the Trade Media Briefing (Credit Photo: SLD)
Dan Wheeler During the Trade Media Briefing (Credit Photo: SLD, July 2010, Kinston, North Carolina)

The role of the American suppliers to Airbus was on display July 1st,2010 in Kinston, North Carolina, where Spirit officially opened their new plant for composite materials.  The plant is designed to support the A350 program by building the central fuselage for the new aircraft.  SLD attended the event, talked with workers, the Governor, the head of Airbus and the head of the Spirit plant, and attended the briefing provided by the head of the plant.  

Dan Wheeler, vice president and general manager of the North Carolina business unit of Spirit provided an overview on the role of Spirit in the Airbus program in a trade press briefing.  Dan Wheeler has significant experience in both the 787 and A350 programs, and focused in the briefing on the path whereby Spirit positioned itself to build three key parts of the A350.  The company is building the composite center-fuselage, section 15, for the airplane as well as the wing leading edge spar.  

The plant is a start-of the art composite manufacturing facility, postured to be able to support ramp up of production as market demand grows for the new aircraft.  The size of the plant is really something to see, and on the opening day the new composite manufacturing machine was unveiled and on display.  

The plant currently employs around 100 people and will grow to 750 in support of the program as the A350 enters full production.  Spirit is committed to employing more than a 1,000 people in the plant and will provide an important input to the local economy.  

Logistics are a key consideration in Spirit coming to Kinston.  There is a large runway on the grounds, a railway will be extended to the facility and major roadways are adjacent to the plant.  

Unveiling the Core Machine for Building the Central Fuselage (Credit Photo: SLD)(Click to enlarge and access caption) 

These logistics are important because the Center Fuselage is very large and will be shipped by sea from a North Carolina port.  And in working through the business case, Spirit came to the conclusion that while all the manufacturing for the center fuselage will be done in North Carolina, the final assembly will occur in its new plant in Saint-Nazaire adjacent to the Airbus facilities.  According to Wheeler this was done to reduce the risk of damage from shipping a fully assembled center fuselage.  

Part of the Central Fuselage (Credit Photo: SLD)
Part of the Central Fuselage (Credit Photo: SLD, Jly 1st, 2010, Kinston, North Carolina)

So this approach to Trans-Atlantic partnership is rooted in the integration of two factories, the main one in North Carolina, and the final assembly facility in France.  

Also, Dan Wheeler underscored that Airbus in building the A350 had considerable composites expertise resident Europe, which was associated with the A380 program as well as the A400M program.  “This resident expertise has been shaping the partnership with Airbus and has made them a very effective partner.”  

Dan Wheeler also underscored the training partnership with North Carolina as crucial.  On the one hand, Spirit is bringing senior engineers to North Carolina to work with the workforce.  On the other hand, the technological center of excellence set up by the State of North Carolina is transiting into the Spirit Composite Center of Excellence.  “It used to be the global transport training center and still functions as a training center.”  

North Carolina established a Global Transpark in Kinston 20 years ago, and the founder was on hand to celebrate the opening of the first plant on the facility.  And the Governor underscored that she was hoping to see Kinston become transformed along the lines of the famous research triangle in North Carolina by launching this facility.  

The Governor, the head of Airbus and the head of Spirit in the Press Conference (Credit Photo: SLD)(Click to enlarge and access caption) 

As Dan Wheeler looked to the future for the company in the industry, he commented: “So we would partner with one of the OEMs in other areas and all of them would say let’s get work in North Carolina, let’s get work in Kansas, let’s get work in Oklahoma.  And how does that package all work together?  And so North Carolina fits that strategy real well as a key manufacturing center.”  


***Posted on July 14th, 2010