MARCO FUCHS, CEO OF OHB SE, AND HANS STEININGER, CEO OF MT AEROSPACE AG, met at the MT Aerospace hall close to Bremen Airport for the interview on the significance of Ariane 6 for the OHB Group. With a floor area of 4,000 square meters, the hall is directly adjacent to the ArianeGroup facility in Bremen. Here, the upper stage tanks for the new European launcher Ariane 6 are produced and tested before being sent to the ArianeGroup hall for final assembly. A law yer by training, Marco Fuchs has been at OHB’s helm since 2000. Aviation engineer Hans Steininger has been managing MT Aerospace since 2005.
What significance does the Ariane 6 program have for the MT Aerospace AG?
HANS STEININGER: For us at MT Aerospace in Augsburg, Ariane 6 guarantees the continued existence of our site for the next ten to 20 years and perhaps even beyond. It is the follow-up product to the Ariane 5, which is being discon tinued in 2022 after 26 years of service. As Ariane 6 is expected to have a similarly long life cycle, active production will continue until 2040 at the earliest and perhaps even longer.
A lot has been invested in the transition. New halls, machinery and production tech
niques have been installed. What were the main challenges?
STEININGER: The greatest challenge was and continues to be the successful development of the new Ariane 6 on a tight budget and schedule. That makes it very important to set up a team with the right development and production skills. At the same time, we have had to invest a lot in the infrastructure, buildings, machinery and, of course, employee training. In total, this involves an amount of more than EUR 200 million primarily financed via ESA for the development and production of the new tanks and structures for Ariane 6.
What does this mean?
STEININGER: The use of these highly digitized development and production processes substantially reduces resource requirements. This enhances our efficiency, allowing us to handle a greater volume of work with roughly the same capacities. This is because our production output is significantly higher: we are currently building around 30 tank domes a year for Ariane 5. In the future, this figure will rise to around 90. We want to build these 90 domes with our current employee numbers. Put simply, Industry 4.0 will allow us to triple our productivity. There are other product groups for which output can be similarly increased and which must be produced using the same number of employees. In addition to new processes, this particularly also calls for good training and further education of our employees.
You mentioned new machinery that you have installed in Augsburg. One of these
is an absolute global first. What can you tell us about it?
STEININGER: You are referring to the large FSW system. FSW is short for “friction stir welding”. The machine is unique in the entire world and was installed at the beginning of 2018. Previously, the welding process took about ten minutes, but the preparation required more than three hours. The new machine reduces the preparation time significantly and this constitutes the technological advance. As well as this, the new process gives us new scope for controlling the process parameters and for monitoring the processes on a real-time basis. The process must be documented and the parts checked by ultrasound. All this is doneby this machine. When the parts leave the machine, they are finished and tested. Previously, the welded product was shunted around the entire factory so that it could be weighed, x-rayed and tested. This was a very time-consuming process which we can now dispense with.
Does this mean that looking forward digitization will play an ever larger role in pro-
STEININGER: Yes, it does. At the same time, enormous volumes of data will be generated. The aim is to prepare the necessary documents and files at the click of a button. Algorithms will consolidate the data intelligently, doing away with weeks of manual work for all time. A digital twin of the product will be created. Looking forward, we will be able to complete everything that we do today an average of 40 to 50 percent more quickly and, hence, more inexpensively than before in order to assert ourselves in the face of global competition.
Let’s briefly move onto Bremen, where MT Aerospace possesses a production site close to the airport. This is where the upper stage tanks of Ariane 6 will be weld-
ed together. What were the reasons for deciding to execute this process in a new
hall in Bremen?
FUCHS: This was related to the decision to complete final assembly of the upper stage tank as closely as possible to the site at which the tank is integrated within the finished upper stage of the launcher. Transporting the upper stage tank from Augsburg to Bremen would have posed a major logistic challenge. So it was simpler to ship the individual parts to Bremen and integrate the tank at the MT hall. The finished tank then only has to be shifted to the ArianeGroup hall next door.
The European launcher industry is very political. What does success in this field ultimately depend on?
FUCHS: Access to space is an economic activity but also a politically based necessity. Every where in the world, there is a political motivation for a country to enter the space industry. The Ariane program was initially also a strategic decision by various countries to achieve independent access to space for Europe. Arianespace has been able to generate very successful commercial business with the launch of telecommunications satellites. This was a superb achievement. The 80 percent share of private-sector business compared with public-sector business is enormous. In Europe, there are currently substantially fewer government missions than in other space flight nations.
What actually makes Ariane 6 better than Ariane 5?
STEININGER: Ariane 6 is around 40 percent cheap er and it is re-ignitable. The Ariane 62 is designed for launches of individual satellites with a payload of six tons and the Ariane 64 for large geostationary missions with a payload of up to twelve tons, e.g. for two satellites. This results in greater flexibility and, hence, the swifter provision of launch services. In addition, the Ariane 62 will be replacing the Russian Soyuz, which is also launched from Kourou. These are the decisive points: it is cheaper, it will be replacing the Soyuz, can be deployed flexibly and can be reignited.
This interview is included in the financial report 2017 of OHB SE