Mexico's massive expansion

Washington DC
Source:
This story is sourced from Flight International
Subscribe today »

Bombardier has broken ground on a new factory at its Mexico Manufacturing Centre in Queretaro, which will be dedicated to producing composite components for the Learjet 85.

The centre's vice-president operations Real Gervais says the new 18,580m2 (200,000ft2) composite factory is now scheduled to open in March 2010. Bombardier originally planned to open the factory in November, but Gervais says the start of construction was pushed back from April to September as part of a company-wide cost-cutting initiative.

To compensate for the later opening, Bombardier has shifted initial composite work for the Learjet 85 to its factory at El Marques Industrial Park, which is at another site in Queretaro. Composite work at El Marques began in September following the installation of a clean room and oven. An initial batch of just over 50 Mexican operators, who were sent to Montreal earlier this year for composite training, is now working on Learjet 85 coupons, demonstrator slabs and test articles.

Learjet 85 vice-president Ralph Acs says work on the first production aircraft, starting with the composite fuselage, will begin when the new Queretaro factory opens in March. He says the idea is to gradually build Queretaro's composite experience using the El Marques facility to ensure the manufacturing centre is ready to begin production as soon as the new factory opens.

"We need to start getting some experience here and proving out processes. That's why we commissioned the El Marques facility," Acs says. "We need to get that up and running and get people from Montreal to slowly come back down so when the new building comes online the processes are proven and the technology ready."

The Learjet 85 programme is groundbreaking for Mexico as it represents the first composite project for the country's budding aerospace industry. Queretaro was able to win Learjet 85 work by committing to offering a composite course and open a composite lab at the National Aeronautic University of Queretaro (UNAQ), a new school which opened in January adjacent to the aerospace park.

UNAQ's composite course will begin in November and involves three months of classroom training followed by three months of hands-on training. Several hundred Bombardier operators are expected to go through this course over the next few years, with the first graduates starting work next spring. Subsequently graduates will emerge at a rate of 20-30 a month.

Over the next six months Bombardier will be spooling up its Mexican Learjet 85 workforce with additional operators who are now undergoing training in Montreal. Learjet 85 senior director of structures Jean-Marc Lariviere says that in addition to the 53 Mexican employees who have already completed training in Canada, there are another 120 employees undergoing composite training in Montreal.

EMPLOYEE PLANS

Bombardier plans to have 120 Learjet 85 employees in Mexico by the end of this year and 450 by the end of 2010. Gervais says there eventually will be at least 800 employees in Mexico working on the Learjet 85 programme.

Overall, Bombardier has about 1,000 employees in Queretaro, down from about 1,200 earlier this year. Gervais says this will grow to about 1,100 employees by the end of this year, compared with an original plan for 1,200-1,300 employees. He says "the economy slowed us down in growth", but Bombardier's medium-term plan for expansion in Queretaro has remained intact, with at least 2,100 employees envisaged, including the 800 for the Learjet 850 programme.

The manufacturing centre is now producing several major components for Bombardier including Challenger 850 fuselages, Global Express rear fuselages and Dash 8 Q400 rudders, elevators and horizontal stabilisers. This work is now done at the original Bombardier factory at the Queretaro Aerospace Park, which opened in 2007, and the factory at El Marques, which opened in 2006. Bombardier also has a second factory at the Queretaro Aerospace Park dedicated to producing electrical harnesses and subassemblies for several Bombardier models.

The new Learjet 85 factory, which will have a U-shape production line when it opens in 2010, will be located across from the two existing factories at the aerospace park. The park is adjacent to Queretaro International airport, which opened in 2004 and has Mexico's longest runway. The Bombardier complex has direct airside access to the airport. This could be used if the manufacturer later decides to expand its Mexican operation to include final assembly and flight testing.