Piper Aircraft Inc. recently started to build the new PiperJet Altaire in Vero Beach, FL. 


Piper Aircraft Inc., a leading producer of general aviation turboprops, is entering a new era. It recently started to build a single-engine business jet. Inaugural flight of the PiperJet Altaire will be in 2012, with certification and deliveries in 2014.

Piper currently has 200 engineers and production staff working on the project. The entry-level business jet will combine the economics of a turboprop with the cabin size and capabilities of a much larger business jet.

The company is in the midst of a $5.6 million infrastructure improvement program to ready its Vero Beach, FL, facility for production. “We’re in the process of installing new assembly jigs on the production line, according to a closely managed, time-phased implementation plan,” says Simon Caldecott, vice president of operations.

“The assembly facility is in the final stages of being updated and made ready for starting major assemblies before the end of the year,” adds Caldecott. “Other investments for new machine tools and equipment have been made. We are already producing detail parts and assemblies on or ahead of the current build schedule.”

The first Altaire aircraft subassemblies will load into the fuselage assembly jigs this month. “Wing components are also in [production], with major assemblies planned later this year,” Caldecott points out. “We’ll start joining these components for final assembly mid-2012.”

The new facility will incorporate a wide variety of lean manufacturing principles. For instance, the production plan is based on a surge system using movable fixtures, with minimum overhead lifting and transport.

“Parts will be manufactured in the main factory, accumulated in a central warehouse, and then kitted and delivered to the assembly building,” says Caldecott. “Work centers are designed and equipped specifically for each fixture, using standard work methods that are the basis for lean manufacturing.

“We are developing a 3D model of the plant layout that will allow a virtual fly through and analysis of a digital representation of airplanes, fixtures, parts and people,” notes Caldecott. “This design package will be supported by a separate simulation software program that allows for discrete event simulation to optimize our manpower plan, takt time, line balancing and rate tools.”

Caldecott says the new aircraft program provides Piper a great opportunity to implement enterprise resource planning systems with digital work instructions. “This element of the standard work management system will guide [assemblers] through a series of discrete work instructions, potentially using networked PC tablets connected to Piper’s engineering, planning and quality systems,” he explains.