Mexico's Aerospace Industry: building an innovation and technology platform for the next generation
A combination of advanced technological exports, talented engineers, competitively priced and skilled workforce and an effective legal framework for the protection of industrial property have positioned Mexico as a premier manufacturing hub, poised to evolve into a next generation technology development platform of great strategic value.
The national strategy for the aerospace industry is paying dividends in knowledge transfer: Mexico's aeronautic sector is gradually evolving into a strong innovation and technology platform for the next generation. The national strategy remains focused on turning Mexico into a destination that supports the complete aircraft life cycle from design and engineering to part manufacturing and assembly, aircraft maintenance, and recycling and/or refurbishment of end-of-life aircraft.
Mexico's aerospace strategy is unparalleled anywhere in the world. It promotes the country's capacities as a competitive manufacturing partner, becoming an affordable destination for innovation and technology development on a project by project basis. The next stage in the development of Mexico's aerospace and defense (A+D) industry, therefore, is the identification and development of R+D commitments within the country's aerospace clusters.
The country has become an aerospace juggernaut in a relatively short time due to its sophisticated knowledge and innovation- driven human capital. Mexican universities produce more engineering graduates than any other country on the continent. On a per capita basis, Mexico graduates three times more engineers than the US. In fact, more than 110,000 engineers graduate every year from science and technology programs in Mexico.
There are currently 287 aerospace companies and related entities operating in Mexico employing some 32,600 highlyskilled professionals. The bulk is concentrated in five states and the vast majority is registered with the Performance Review Institute's National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (NADCAP) and hold Aerospace Standard 91000 (AS9100) certification.
A combination of advanced technological exports, talented engineers, competitively priced and skilled workforce, and an effective legal framework for the protection of industrial property have positioned Mexico as a premier manufacturing hub, poised to evolve into a next generation technology development platform of great strategic value to the global aerospace industry.
A case in point is the level of integration of Mexican engineering expertise with global operations. Bombardier Aerospace has already employed 200 engineers at its facilities in Querétaro, to provide support to the company's production sites in the country. This group of engineers interacts on a daily basis with other engineering teams around the world. With their help, Bombardier Aerospace is capable of managing all aspects related to electrical harnesses, and is the pioneer in México for the manufacture of composite aircraft components, using innovative production techniques.
Aerospace supply chains are morphing. Burgeoning manufacturing clusters are upgrading the technological content of their activities and developing a dedicated technology platform. With the global aerospace industry shifting to an intense activity in commercial aircraft development and manufacturing to offset losses derived from defense budget cuts, many companies are seeking competitive and innovation-oriented destinations like Mexico. Apart from its cost-effective manufacturing, Mexico is increasingly seen as an emerging development platform for next generation technologies.
Changes in the global production chain bring a demand for new players to emerge in the global ecosystem capable of generating affordable innovation for the aerospace industry. To meet this demand, one of the national government's priorities is the continuous development and progressive evolution of the Mexican aerospace industry.
As a result of this strategic approach and following the Roadmap of the Aerospace Industry designed by ProMéxico's Business Intelligence Unit, a more ambitious and strategic innovation policy is being developed by both the government and the industry to encourage aerospace clusters in Mexico to undertake R+D activities and integrate systems and subsystems. Setting up world-class research infrastructure is vital to achieving this, given the inclusion of new technologies in new aircraft models.
High technology companies tend to cluster around knowledge-producing institutions and the innovation-driven aerospace sector is no exception. For this reason, and in line with the national industrial strategy, the Ministry of Economy has identified Querétaro and Baja California, among other states, as potential poles of innovation to develop an effective technology potential. Firms are encouraged to go beyond manufacturing and assembling operations and undertake more complex activities, boosting Mexico's capacities as a relevant player in this worldclass high technology industry.
One specific example is the recent setting up of RIIAQ (Aerospace Research and Innovation Network Querétaro), a manufacturing and innovation network comprising 29,000 jobs and located in the central Mexico industrial cluster in Querétaro, Mexico's industrial heartland. The network of collaborative innovation was launched in 2009, and has been built stage by stage. The first challenges were to obtain company buy-in and develop the education and R+D system to support it. Its current challenge is to establish flexible public policies to support new companies coming into Querétaro, local SMEs and industrial R+D.
The development and consolidation of aerospace clusters is often done in stages; the first is to build the manufacturing capacities of companies that will form the supply chain. But also, innovation capacities have to be developed in the targeted region. The RIIAQ consists of aerospace companies such as Aernnova, Bombardier, ITR, GE, Safran Dowty Messier and Alaxia Aerosystems in conjunction with academic institutions and federal and state governments. Emerging from a National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) initiative to stimulate the formation of strategic alliances between public and private actors in priority areas for knowledge, research and the creation of new capacities for the aerospace sector, the RIIAQ is an institutional and interdisciplinary network in the scientific and technological development of the aerospace industry. It is also a collaboration platform to achieve excellence in research and innovation through interaction and sharing of common goals.
Mexico is a leading producer of jet engines. It has the largest GE research and design center outside the US and Canada –in Querétaro–, where around 1,300 engineers work on projects like the GEnx turbine used on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A380. In 2015, GE plans to open a new 30 million usd facility, right on the heels of one opened early this year at a cost of 20 million usd. The new wing will house GE's aviation program with roughly 1,000 staff.
Another useful example to illustrate innovation advances by Mexican homegrown talent is 3D Robotics (3DR). This company was founded in 2009 and operates in both California, US and Baja California, Mexico. 3D Robotics develops innovative, flexible and reliable personal drones and UAV technology for everyday exploration and business applications. 3DR's UAV platforms capture breathtaking aerial imagery for consumer enjoyment and data analysis, enabling mapping, surveying, 3D modeling and more. The company's technology is currently used across multiple industries around the world, including agriculture, photography, construction, search and rescue and ecological study. 3DR is committed to bringing the power of UAV technology to the mainstream market. This company's success story is being replicated by a new breed of young Tijuana visionaries who are betting on entrepreneurship and innovation by creating a mind hub aiming to work with US aerospace companies and other sophisticated technology industries across the border.
To sum up, Mexico is more than just cost-effective manufacturing and is certainly more than an assembly line. The country is ready to evolve as a next generation technology platform for the global aerospace industry. We are flying to our destiny.