05 December 2013

A350 XWB and the South African connection

The South African company, Aerosud supplies critically important parts for the A350 XWB; the frame clips for the centre fuselage of the aircraft and the track cans for the wings.

  • The frame clips are Class 1 structural composite parts and secure the fuselage skin panels to the fuselage structural framework.

  • The track cans – there are several on each wing – house the drive mechanisms for the leading edge slats, which are a movable part of the wing.

“The A350 program is very important for Aerosud,” Dr Paul Potgieter, Aerosud group MD said. “The A350 contracts weren’t achieved or obtained on the back of offset agreements or country-level partnership agreements. Fundamentally, the roots of this were not developed through industrial participation. We’re moving beyond that. Industrial participation can be a lever, a means to fast-track, but not a necessity for us, to participate in the global aerospace market.”

“We got the track cans contract on the back of our previous experience,” he explained. “We do all the track cans for the Airbus A320.”

The frame clips contract is the result of Aerosud’s concentration, over the last 6 years, on developing expertise in composites and, in particular, the manufacturing of parts from continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastics (CFRTP), which are lighter than other composites. In this endeavour, Aerosud received support and some funding from the Department of Science and Technology, under the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy. “We now have intellectual property (IP) on composites. Airbus has recognized our uniqueness in this.” (

Aerosud designed and set up its first CFRTP parts production press in 2010 (a prototype press was developed in 2007) and the company is currently one of only a handful in the world that can supply CFRTP components. On the A350 program, Aerosud is classified as a Tier 2 supplier. That is, it does not supply its products directly to Airbus but to Spirit AeroSystems, which is a Tier 1 supplier to Airbus.

Frame clips are not simple products. Those placed in different locations have different shapes and sizes, but all have the same curvature – the curvature of the fuselage diameter. Aerosud produces more than 470 types of frame clips for the A350. Each aircraft contains just over 1000 frame clips. The company is currently making some 1800 frame clips a month, a figure that will increase to 9000 a month by 2016, as production of the new airliner ramps up to steady state.

Selection of composite frame clips currently produced by Aerosud: 1 - Window frame clips, 2 - Single bend clips, 3 - Z-shape clip, 4 - Stabilizer, 5 - Joggled clip

Aerosud continues to develop its CFRTP capabilities; earlier this year, it commissioned its new CFRTP press. Designed by Aerosud (with the heavy steel castings manufactured inChina by HZM Heavy Engineering), this is the world’s biggest industrialized CFRTP press. It weighs some 70tonnes and will be able to produce CFRTP parts as big as 2.5 m × 1.5 m.

Based on the article “New-generation Airbus incorporates key components made in South Africa” published in Engineering news

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