Negocios / Monterrey aerospace: high fliers

Monterrey aerospace: high fliers

A company based in Apodaca, Nuevo León is responsible for a good number of Mexican components finding their way into the top flight of helicopter models. Its strategy is based on working with quality and meeting the most demanding standards.

Monterrey Aerospace has become the foremost original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in the Nuevo León aerocluster, sending finished products to the US for use in the military sector.

Despite the workload represented by completing delivery of 24 airframes for Boeing's Apache AH-6i –a light combat and reconnaissance military helicopter– as well as MD Helicopters' commercial models MD500E, MD530F, MD600N and MD520N, for which Monterrey Aerospace is the principal supplier, the company is participating in industry fairs such as Pro- México Global in order to present itself to potential customers and expand its portfolio of domestic suppliers.

Teresa Galindo, General Director of Monterrey Aerospace, explains that its independence with regard to the MD Helicopters corporation, located in Mesa, Arizona, allows the Mexican firm to promote its own capabilities in the development of parts for the aerospace industry, spread the quality of its manufacturing and the vertical integration achieved so far to win over more customers.

The company under Galindo's charge carries out machining and forming processes for sheet metal, metal bonding for bonding structural and non-structural metals, spot welding of aluminum and steel, and application of chemical treatments on aluminum and component assembly. Having control of the entire chain and doing so under the strict standards of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) makes Aerospace Monterrey a reliable company that is able to meet high priority requirements.

Eight years of vertical growth
Monterrey Aerospace was established in Apodaca, Nuevo León –in the metropolitan area of Monterrey– in 2006. Its goal at the time, according to Galindo, was only to produce minor subassemblies for MD Helicopters but, by 2007, the company had already succeeded in developing a complete fuselage with parts imported from the US and others manufactured in Mexico.

Currently, 62% of the parts for the fuselage of MD's commercial models are manufactured in Monterrey and, in the case of fuselages for military use, Mexican content reaches 90%.

"The idea is to continue to increase assembly of parts in Mexico. Currently, some suppliers are based in the US but we want to vertically integrate to increase Mexican content," Galindo reveals.

The goal, according to the company's director general, is that by the end of 2014, Monterrey Aerospace increases the number of parts produced at its plant from 1,800 to 2,000. That will largely be possible thanks to advances in the MD Helicopters' ongoing program to produce its own model for the area of defense.

This shift will also mean an increase in the workforce of the firm from 150 to 180 people, as well as new challenges for the company and its human capital, which will have to develop capabilities that are not yet fully integrated into existing curricula in technical and engineering schools. Partners, Galindo says, "must have a good ability to learn new things and adapt to change swiftly."

Monterrey Aerospace has six month training plans for new technicians. In addition, it has formed links with the Polytechnic University of Apodaca in the areas of innovation and product development.

Military grade
Together with the above, the Mexican company and its staff have a high level of responsibility and commitment with the US authorities, institutions, and protocols –such as International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR)–, since the project began production of airframes for armed helicopters.

In 2010, Boeing and MD Helicopters signed an agreement to produce jointly and sell the AH-6i, a new version of the legendary Apache. The construction of the prototype began in 2009 in Mesa, Arizona.

Boeing won a contract with the US armed forces that led to a commission for 24 airframes that is currently occupying part of the workforce at Monterrey Aerospace.

"We have a license from the US State Department that authorizes us to manufacture these products," Galindo confirms.

That makes Monterrey Aerospace the first Mexican OEM to deliver final products for the military sector to the US and projections indicate the firm will continue to work on these airframes during 2015 and into 2016. After that, orders are lined up from MD itself, which intends to become a full competitor in the same sector.

The next step is to involve other firms in the vertical expansion of the company. Teresa Galindo explains that the corporation is interested in more Mexican companies obtaining certification, so they can become suppliers. To date only two workshops –one for coating processes and one that manufactures aluminum pieces– are on her books.

Meanwhile, relationships with both state and federal governments have been fruitful, since "the triple-helix idea works perfectly for us. The government offers incentives for firms to keep going and over time increase their productivity," concludes Galindo.

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