Bell has unveiled a new Manufacturing Technology Center (MTC) where it will test and refine manufacturing technologies and processes for its next generation of vertical-lift aircraft, including the eVTOL Nexus.
The 140,000-square-foot (13,000-square-meter) facility in Fort Worth, Texas, is primarily targeted at lucrative Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programs for the U.S. Army. Bell has two aircraft competing for FVL contracts: the V-280 Valor tiltrotor, which is a contender for the Army’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, and the Bell 360 Invictus, a conventional helicopter that has been downselected for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program.
With its MTC, Bell hopes to demonstrate to the Army that it is prepared to launch high-quality, high-rate production of FVL aircraft, including core manufacturing of rotor and drive systems and final assembly. However, the company also expects its investment in the MTC to pay dividends for other future platforms, including its Nexus air taxi.
“This is where we are going to develop all the next-generation manufacturing technologies that will enable 280, that will enable Invictus, that will enable Nexus, that will enable all things future at Bell,” said Glenn Isbell, VP of rapid prototyping and manufacturing innovation, in a video introducing the facility.
According to Bell, digital connectivity and integration form the backbone of the MTC. Information technology, Internet of Things (IoT), and cybersecurity systems will manage the inflow and outflow of materials and the movement of activity throughout the factory. Bell also plans to use a networked software infrastructure to produce a digital twin of the facility that will provide a common operating picture of the building, the equipment, and the processes.
Bell first revealed its Nexus air taxi in early 2019, originally as a hybrid-electric concept incorporating six ducted fans. Earlier this year, it announced a fully electric, four-ducted version, the Nexus 4EX.
Cost-effective, high-volume manufacturing is widely seen as one of the principal challenges facing the emerging urban air mobility industry, as most air taxi business models hinge on manufacturing at scales well in excess of today’s aircraft production volumes.