Bell unveiled its new manufacturing technology center (MTC) in Fort Worth, Texas, on August 10. The 140,000-square-foot facility is primarily intended to support the planned manufacturing of Future Vertical Lift aircraft for the U.S. military, but is also expected to be used to build the company's Nexus eVTOL aircraft.
The U.S. helicopter manufacturer's immediate priority is to demonstrate to the U.S. Army that it is capable of economically building future rotorcraft at scale and rate. Company executives also said that the facility will be used to transform manufacturing throughout the organization.
“The MTC is the next step in successfully deploying new manufacturing technologies and processes into Bell’s future factories,” said Bell v-p of rapid prototyping and manufacturing innovation Glenn Isbell. “These future factories, working together with our teammates and suppliers, will be designed to enable high-quality, high-rate production” of future models, including the V-280 tiltrotor and Invictus 360, should Bell win Army programs to build those aircraft.
Bell will use the MTC to test and refine technologies and processes required to build and support those and other aircraft, including the Nexus urban air mobility vehicle, according to the company. Facility capabilities span the core manufacturing of rotor and drive systems, infrastructure, and final assembly.
By deploying a networked software infrastructure, the Textron group subsidiary says the MTC will produce a digital twin of itself that gives everyone a common operating picture of the building, equipment, and processes. The facility will be monitored and controlled by network IT, internet of things, and cybersecurity systems that manage factory material flow and activity.
In January 2020, Bell unveiled its Nexus 4EX eVTOL design, which is a refinement of the initial Nexus model that it had revealed 12 months earlier. The latest design is an all-electric tiltwing with four ducted fans, featuring a central wing, integrated landing skids and a vertical tail with no horizontal stabilizer.
Back in January 2019, Bell indicated that it expected to achieve a first flight with the Nexus during 2020 as it prepared for a target type certification date in 2023. The company has yet to provide any further updates on progress with the program or to confirm whether or not this timeline might have slipped in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.