Airbus: variation reduction

EADS specialises in aerospace, defence and related products and services. The group includes Airbus, Eurocopter and EADS Astrium, the European leader in space programmes.

EADS is the major partner in the Eurofighter consortium, develops the A400M military transport aircraft, and holds a stake in MBDA, the international leader in missile systems. The group employs over 100,000 people at more than 70 production sites in France, Germany, the UK and Spain as well as in the US and Australia.

Oakland Consulting has been working with EADS over several years to develop and implement an effective improvement programme. This case study briefly describes just one of the hundreds of projects undertaken. It describes the first project undertaken by an EADS Black Belt candidate, recently trained by Oakland Consulting in Lean Six Sigma.


Within the Airbus facility at Filton, UK, work was being done on hydraulic pipes to fit within the massive wings of the new Airbus A380. The production team was finding it very difficult to bend the pipes to the specified tolerances. The non-conformance rate was running at over 80%, requiring large amounts of rework and also creating high scrap levels.

Improvements to the process had been considered and, although a plan to purchase a new inspection jig had been approved, a project was created to find alternative ways to reduce the non-conformance levels, hence eliminating the need for an expensive capital investment.


The team adopted a structured methodology for problem solving that is represented by the acronym “DRIVER” (see fig 1). After creating a clear definition of the problem the project team collected performance data and ascertained the extent to which the process was incapable of meeting the design tolerances. The next step was to identify and reduce the effects of the significant common causes of variation. Little data existed so the team undertook a major data collection exercise to get the facts.

A number of significant causes were identified, and actions implemented to reduce their effects. However, when the process capability was measured again, it still showed an incapable process.

Instead of running a common cause variation reduction method again, the team decided to take a slightly different perspective on the problem and examine the specification to see if it may be possible to widen the tolerance without affecting quality or operation of any other functions within the wing.

Variation Reduction

New people were invited into the team from Design Engineering and a study undertaken of true required tolerances. Such work had to be undertaken to ensure that functionality would be not be adversely affected and was compliant with all appropriate design and regulatory standards. As a result, design tolerances were found to be over-specified. It was then possible to significantly widen tolerances without any adverse effects on fit or functionality within the wing.


The non-conformance rate has now been dramatically reduced, giving a saving of €70k per wing set and the proposal for the new inspection jig was abandoned avoiding an investment of c.€1m. Work is ongoing to further improve process capability and the principles uncovered in this project are being applied to new aircraft currently in the design phase.

DRIVER Methodology