A 4.0 Plant for the Future

WSP worked closely with aeronautics supplier Latécoère on the design and construction of an ultramodern facility in Toulouse, France. The new 4.0 plant is fully digitalized and automated for state-of-the-art production of metal parts used by the likes of Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer for their aircraft.

The new 6,000 m2 plant is part of a massive operation to modernize Latécoère’s activities, which includes the devolution of a historic site in the middle of Toulouse and the construction of a new industrial base on the outskirts of the city. And an additional 3,000 m2 expansion is already underway. Ground was broken in 2018 with startup slated for 2020. The new facilities will make it possible for Latécoère to integrate its surface treatment and painting operations.  

A Smart Factory

The Toulouse plant was digital from the get-go, starting with its 3D plant-and-equipment model. That model made it possible to fine-tune the building design and integrate models of the production process. “We assembled the design while we worked on optimizing the interior,” said WSP’s Director, Industry for France Denis Ovize. 

The new technology can also manage materials in real time using sensors placed throughout the plant. Everything is recorded and measured, so that differences in production flow or the production of new parts can be simulated easily. Plant operations are optimized on an ongoing basis.

Latécoère’s ultimate goal was to dramatically reduce production cycles (from two or three months to two or three weeks) and boost production to 500,000 parts per year, or one part every minute. Bringing some of the group’s production back in house also cuts down on parts transportation and reduces the group’s environmental footprint. 

Usine Latecoere

Usine Latecoere

An Aggressive Timeline

As the developer, we at WSP investigated user needs and drew up the project reference framework. Next we produced a detailed draft project for general contractors, all in under two months, and assisted Latécoère in the choice of a company. Once the contract was signed, we made sure the work matched the detailed study and supervised both construction and final project delivery. We also worked with Latécoère’s divisions to commission the plant.

One of the challenges we faced was the need to start from scratch. “Latécoère had a site and an overall plan, but nothing nailed down,” said Nicolas Camus, WSP’s project manager in France. “We had to come to an understanding of what they wanted to do and translate that into concrete needs. Then we could start talking about volumes, dimensions, and the rest. It involved walking them through every step of the decision-making process.”

The other bridge to cross was linked to the new ways things are done in industry. Process automation and digitalization mean that production space may need to be reconfigured rapidly as new equipment, processes, or products come online. “The key word here was flexibility,” said Camus. “You have to be adaptable, because even though there’s a master plan, it can all change in a heartbeat.”  

The construction schedule was also extremely tight, but thanks to the 3D model it all rolled along beautifully. “We had to move construction forward without entirely knowing how it would eventually be used,” said Camus. “We had to be bold and flexible.” The result was that Latécoère commissioned its new plant in May 2018, less than a year after breaking ground.

Size of new plant
6,000 m2 6,000 m2
3,000 m2 3,000 m2
Production per year
500,000 parts 500,000 parts

A Technological Showpiece

The new Toulouse plant will be a showpiece for Latécoère Group with its use of the latest technology as well as its enhanced work stations that promote staff well-being. Among the plant’s distinguishing features is the way work areas are open to natural light, something rarely seen in facilities of this type.

WSP also worked with Latécoère on the design and construction of its aerostructure small-assembly plant in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and is partnering with it on another project, this time in Tunisia.

Latécoère has 17 production plants worldwide and a workforce of 4,451.