Eurocopter has joined the growing number of aerospace majors in Mexico's Queretaro manufacturing cluster with the formal opening of a $100 million factory that will be its sole-source supplier of AS350 Ecureuil tail booms and the A320, A330 and A340 cargo and emergency exit doors that it builds for sister company Airbus.
Initial operations will see the assembly of imported kits, but machinery will from this year be installed to carry out machining, sheet metal fabrication and surface treatment in Queretaro. Total investment could eventually reach $550 million.
The fabrication of Airbus doors is being transferred from an undisclosed Asian subcontractor, adds global supply chain executive vice-president Joseph Saporito.
Saporito expects the plant to be performing both components manufacture and assembly in 2014-15. The Queretaro factory is a by-product of a 2010 contract to supply a total of 15 EC725s to the Mexican air force and navy. With 200 new jobs being created by mid-2014 in the manufacturing plant and an attached maintenance, repair and overhaul facility, Queretaro is seen by Eurocopter as a good offset offering, though none was specifically required by the EC725 deal.
Saporito adds that Queretaro plant "kills three birds with one stone" in achieving Eurocopter's three key objectives in its overseas deployment strategy: offsets, increased exposure to a dollar zone cost base and competitiveness. He declined to detail Mexican costs, but described them as "competitive" - as evidenced by the move of the Airbus door work from Asia.
An intensive training programme being carried out on site, with the aeronautical university of Queretaro and in Eurocopter facilities in Europe should have the plant running with mostly Mexican staff, and just a "handful" of Europeans, by 2017, says Saporito.
He stresses that moving too quickly from assembly to manufacturing is inviting failure, so Eurocopter is moving forward cautiously. But, he says, Eurocopter has been "very positively impressed" by the quality of the workforce in Queretaro.
Eurocopter, in its previous Aérospatiale guise, has been in Mexico for 30 years. Its head office, in Mexico City, provides sales and customer support services including MRO. A new function is to oversee customers' operational safety in Canada, Mexico, Central America and the northern rim of South America, providing operational guidance where it deems necessary. US customers are supported from Dallas and Columbus, Mississippi.