Businesses of a feather flock together
Chihuahua's rapidly expanding aerospace cluster has attracted Fokker Technologies, a company that knows the business inside out.
The state of Chihuahua has taken giant steps down the road to creating a solid, dynamic aerospace cluster. Four original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) –Cessna, Textron International, Beechcraft, and Honeywell– have set up shop in this northern state, along with over twenty related companies. One of these is Fokker Aerostructures, a Fokker Technologies business unit that specializes in light weight aircraft structures like tail assemblies, wing components and fuselage panels.
Piloting Fokker Aerostructures in Mexico is José Luis Rodríguez Ramos, who has been president of the Chihuahua Aerospace Cluster since 2013. "It's a win-win relationship," he says.
Rodríguez has witnessed at first hand the growth of Chihuahua's aerospace industry over the last two decades and is a promoter of the aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) base that will be built here between 2014 and 2015.
Chihuahua's consolidation as an aerospace industry hub in Mexico was a decisive factor in persuading Fokker Technologies, a global company of Dutch origin that has production centers in Rumania, Turkey, Canada, the US, Singapore, and China, to transfer some of its larger projects to Mexico –projects like the assembly of the empennage and moving parts of the wings of business jets for different well recognized customers.
"Our strategy was to develop a world class plant that could compete with the Europeans and Americans in terms of quality but at a lower cost. We, as Fokker, agreed to bring in know-how from the Netherlands, where Fokker has existed for one hundred years. We brought in people with as much as twenty or thirty years' experience to participate in a process we call training the trainers," says Rodríguez.
The 70,000-square-foot plant opened its hatches in March 2012. In attendance at the opening ceremony were Steven Soederhuizen, Operations Vice President of Fokker Aerostructures, and Hans Büthker, then President of Fokker Aerostructures and current CEO of Fokker Technologies.
At the time, it was announced that Fokker had made an initial investment of 15 million USD. The plan was to begin with ninety person business units, consolidate a first working phase with five active projects, and expand from there in phases with plants with the same characteristics as the existing one during the coming years.
Fokker Chihuahua in cruise mode
Three of the five projects assigned to the Chihuahua plant are already at the sustaining stage, while the required number of products are on line and meet quality standards.
These entail the assembly of rear wings, tails, elevators, and wing rudders for business jets. The fourth project –the assembly of composite floor panels for business jets– will get underway in September 2014.
"The transfer of technology has begun. We have people in the Netherlands learning to assemble composites and the infrastructure is being readied," says Rodríguez.
The fifth project is related to the agreement on starting manufacturing empennages for a new customer into the Fokker Mexico Aerostructures Plant during the second part of this year.
If there was ever any doubt about Mexico's ability to produce goods for the aerospace sector, these have been dissipated. Several sources predict that by 2016 Chihuahua will be the chief pole of competitiveness in Latin America if it continues to promote high-tech industries and dual-use goods.
Fokker, which is in the process of transitioning from a European to a global enterprise, has chosen Chihuahua as its production base to serve the North American market and, according to Rodríguez, the goal is to expand gradually and help the company reach its global sales target of one billion USD by 2020.
In the shorter term, the Chihuahua plant needs to ensure the transfer of know-how "is successful and that potential customers like Bombardier and other companies located in Mexico come to trust and look up to us," says Rodríguez.
Fokker Chihuahua boasts AS9100C, EASA Part-21, and other certifications granted by its customers, and complies with regulations governing the sector in Mexico. And because its manufacturing processes are aligned with those patented by its parent company, it enjoys the complete trust of the latter and its customers.
Not only has Dutch know-how been transferred to Mexico but also Fokker Chihuahua has been given the freedom to adapt it and has striven for excellence with the help of strategic alliances with academic institutions and government agencies in Mexico.
Furthermore, "because aerospace has been classed a strategic sector in Mexico, Fokker Aerostructures has access to municipal, state, and federal government incentives intended to foster the development of the industry," says Rodríguez.
The American Supply Chain
The coming on line of the Chihuahua plant brought with it the migration of the supply chain for the OEM's, with Fokker Aerostructures now purchasing its raw materials –minor metal structures, laminates, thermal and processed components, paint, sealants, and riblets– within the NAFTA zone. "The idea is that Mexican companies will supply more of these materials in the future," concludes Rodríguez.
Right now, there is a constant toing and froing between Mexico and the US. The company has a purchasing office in Atlanta, Georgia, with the objective of the development of the supply chain in the US and Mexico.