BAE Systems F-35 Lightning – Aerospace Production Line Handling

Aerospace, Nuclear & Defence

The Challenge

As a principal partner in the F-35 Lightning project, BAE Systems manufactures the rear fuselage and tail of the fighter jet in their Samlesbury plant. With a production volume target of over 3,000 planes, BAE Systems needed to increase output from one plane a week, to one a day.

Partially assembled components were being moved manually around the plant on trolleys at floor level, an inefficient use of space and a slow labour-intensive process. Adopting the latest automated assembly line thinking and technology would be key to reaching the new target.

The Solution

SCX created a first-of-a-kind, automotive-inspired production line handling solution that transfers components via 38 trolleys on a monorail high above the factory floor. The solution enables the fast transfer of trolleys between workstations, where semi-automated hoists lower the component cradles to floor level.

SCX also engineered the steel supporting structure, gantry interface cranes and the trolley hoists with their semi-automated cradles. The system is fully integrated – as each stage is completed, the cradle is hoisted back up and the entire assembly line moves on to the next stage of production.

Riding the monorail

  • The complex steelwork structure is floormounted and winds around the entire facility, providing essential support for the monorail circuit, trolley hoists and gantry interface cranes
  • SCX engineered all horizontal and vertical moving elements of the production line, from the monorail trolleys to the chain hoists to the component cradles
  • Systems integration and automation was achieved through a bespoke EC&I scheme from SCX, keeping all 38 trolleys in safe, constant motion


Gantry interface cranes

  • The production line’s three gantry interface cranes share the same 8-metre span, 7.6-metre long rails, with various predefined stopping and parking positions to avoid clashes
  • The cranes transfer loads between different sections of the monorail, with a maximum speed of 10m/min
  • Alignment with the stopping and parking positions is repeatable to an accuracy of ±1mm, ensuring smooth  transitions to the monorail


Trolley hoists and cradles

  • With a 4-metre height of lift and a load capacity of 6 tonnes, the trolley hoists traverse the monorail at a maximum speed of 8m/min
  • The trolley carries valuable component cradles to the workstations, where an HMI panel controls chain hoists to lower the cradles to a pre-determined height
  • The chain hoist has custom sprockets for smooth, precise and powerful lifting, and over-raise and over-lower protection for safety and reliability



Let's talk more about aerospace production line handling

Production lines rely on efficiency, reliability and repeatability. Designing a system to realise those benefits is not straightforward and requires a level of full system thinking and integration that is rarely (if ever) found in commercial-off-the-shelf lifting equipment.

We have decades of experience in delivering innovative, reliable and safe mechanical handling solutions. Talk to us today.

Call us on +44 114 262 6199, email us at, or complete the contact form below and we'll be in touch.

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SCX Special Projects Ltd

Roman Ridge Road, Sheffield, S9 1GA, United Kingdom

t:  +44 (0)114 262 6199