Following a degree in mechanical engineering and a career in academic research, she has moved to the 'practice' of seeing theoretical applications come to fruition in processes and products. This is the journey travelled by Manuela Marangio, who is today responsible for production engineering for Leonardo Aerostructures at the industrial facility near Taranto where she arrived 16 years ago: “When, as a university researcher, I asked to be given a tour of the facility as it was still being built, I immediately fell in love: right in front of me, just one metre away, I could see many of the machines and systems I had learned about in my studies, and I had no hesitation in leaving the academic world to begin this journey within the company.”
Ever since her arrival at Grottaglie, in the plant that she had practically seen rising from the ground, she has been working on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner programme, the first airliner in the world to be built with a massive use of composite materials. A project in which Leonardo designs and builds 14% of the entire structure. In particular, it is at this industrial facility that the central and central-rear sections of the fuselage are created. The innovative production process - which is largely automated - makes use of patents and equipment that are unique of their kind in the world and, for the first time, the fuselage structure of a commercial aircraft is being made in carbon fibre using one-piece barrel technology.
Manuela heads up a team of about 50 people with responsibility for industrialisation supporting the manufacture and assembly of the two sections of the 787-8, 9 and 10 versions, supplying working instructions, tools and CNC machine programming in support of workshop activities.
“A challenge,” she says, “that’s not just technological - introducing innovative materials and processes - but also organisational, requiring a constant increase in productivity up to a maximum of 14 fuselages per month [...].” Challenges and, above all, innovation which have been, as she puts it, “a gymnasium of curiosity, dedication and continuous commitment”, all aspects that she now determinedly applies to new projects coming in.
Of the activities that she has been involved in and that she is most proud of, Manuela particularly recalls, in 2017 - at the height of an accelerated production rate (14 fuselages per month - ed.) - the raising in efficiency of the strategic assembly line to cope with the demands and needs of an innovative programme that would go on to revolutionise the market segment of medium-large civil aircraft (250-400 passengers). In concrete terms, she explains, this meant carrying out a critical review of each step of the process: “we managed to identify several areas with scope for improvement, looking not only at the product but also at the process and the quality. It was a tiring experience, but one full of achievements shared with my team and the other partners in the 787 programme”.
Manuela also proudly mentions another project that she is working on with her colleagues. This is a joint development programme for the design, production and testing of carbon fibre fuselages for the Vertical Aerospace VX4 electric aircraft.
Skills that she considers essential are analytical ability, tenacity and leadership, together with best practices like process standardisation, data sharing and historicisation. “With my team I’ve continually pursued internal improvement, implementing (simple but functional) platforms to share the various steps of the process, from configuration management to work cycles and rework instruction management”. Manuela is aware that, by working with her team and sharing the strengths of each person, she is able to “contribute to change, making it sustainable”.
In her work, just as in his personal life, her interest in change and the lesson she has learned about 'thinking simple' - the true innovation - have been fixed values in her journey, in which: “we need to walk in the world with a persistent curiosity, one step after the other, occasionally losing our balance in the process of learning to walk and then to run”.