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Matra at Selles St. Denis: a robotized missile den.

Matra at Selles St. Denis: A Robotized Missile Den

The name of Selles St. Denis does not mean much to most people around the world. The name ist not even in Webster's Geographical Dictionary. In the defence community, however, Selles St. Denis - a very small town in the Sologne region 200 kilometres south of Paris - is gradually becoming associated with Matra, and more particularly with the Mistral missile, for which a new automated assembly plant has been built and put into operation last year.

When driving through the Matra forest estate, the visitor might think he has been invited to a private shoot in a game park rather than to inspect a new robotized missile manufacturing plant. In today's economically "stressed" world, the performance of a system alone is no longer enough to attract an order from a potential customer. In the selection process, political relationships and cost each weigh in the scales as much as performance, which means that a deal can easily be lost to a competitor's much lower performance product. For a number of years, competitiveness has been almost an obsession for Matra Group boss Jean-Luc Lagardere, and robotic appeared to be the unavoidable solution if the short-range anti-aircraft missile system was going to undercut as well as outperform the competition. Right from the outset, the Mistral was designed to be built on an automatic assembly line. In so doing, Matra also set new personnel safety standards: not a single person needs to enter the assembly "bunker" while production is underway.

Design work on the Mistral assembly facility and equipment began in 1984 and by the end of 1987 the automatic assembly line was delivered to Selles by Matra Manhurin. The first production Mistral rolled off the line in June 1988. The various modules and sub-assemblies are stored in a computerised warehouse and picked up by an automatic system according to production needs. After assembly of the guidance module and checking of its components by technicians, the elements are forwarded to a building with one metre-thick concrete walls where the final assembly of the missile is totally taken over by the steel claws of silicon-brained robots which bolt the front section of the missile onto its warhead and then onto to the rocket motor unit. The round is then placed automatically into its canister and receives its connectors and the cryogenic cartridge fixtures. The last fully robot-driven operation is a complete check of the missile and of its launcher tube. All the automated operations are monitored by technicians from outside the bunker on closed-circuit TV. The Selles St. Denis plant is approaching a production rate of 400 rounds per month. However, robotization offers the advantage of a high degree of production flexibility since it allows the manufacturer rapidly to step up to a monthly rate of 1 000 units with negligible personnel changes.

To date Matra has received orders from four countries for a total of 5 000 Mistrals. The manufacturer's aim is to have a total of ten customers for the missile by the end of this year.

Selles St. Denis is also the cradle of the Magic missile, in production since 1977. The Magic 2 replaced the retroactively renamed Magic 1 in 1984. The reputation of this dogfight missile does not need to be made. It has recently been adapted to and launched from a F-16 as part of a programme jointly conducted by Matra, General Dynamics and the Belgian F-16 licensee SABCA. The Fighting Falcon has thus become the twelfth aircraft type (other models include even Iraqi MiGs) qualified to carry the French heat-seeking missile.

PHOTO : A one hundred percent one-company job: at Selles St. Denis Matra Manurhin robots assemble the Matra Mistral missile.

PHOTO : Recently adapted to the F-16, the Magic 2 is now the subject of an agreement with McDonnell Douglas for the F-18 Hornet.
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:location of Mistral missile automated assembly plant
Publication:Armada International
Date:Aug 1, 1989
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