For engineering consultancy Aertec, one key challenge these days for itself – and its clients – is an aerospace take on the environmental movement’s mantra, “think global, act local”. For a company that specialises not in product design, but in design of the factories and test regimes that support the industrialisation of those products, helping clients strike a satisfactory balance between dealing with issues inside the company and among their many suppliers has become a focus of its work.
As business development director Pedro De Melo Raposo, who heads the Malaga, Spain-headquartered group’s UK office in Bristol, puts it, the past decade has been a difficult time for aerospace programme management. Historically, programme management – De Melo Raposo’s speciality before joining Aertec – was a local problem, that is, mostly inside a company. But the move by big players, notably Boeing with the 787 and Aertec client Airbus, to risk-sharing models turned programme management into a global challenge. But well-documented budget, timetable and execution problems on big programmes, most visibly the 787 and A380, have altered the course of that revolution, or at least put it on hold.
The lesson to learn is that, says De Melo Raposo, while global programme oversight cannot be underplayed, there is a lot of local work to do. “We’re seeing a more stable phase, where those challenges are better understood and risks mitigated,” he says.
For Aertec, the widespread aerospace industry understanding that programme management techniques need renewed attention presents a wide range of opportunities. The company, created by two engineers in Malaga in 1997, gained national prominence in Spain with a contract in 2000 to help design Fuerteventura airport, and went international a year later with a similar job at London Luton.
The firm grew quickly in the 2000s by getting onboard several big programmes, mostly in Spain. A contract to help design the Airbus Military A400M final assembly line in Seville was a milestone, and establishing the Bristol office a year ago brought Aertec closer to Airbus, for whom Aertec provides “manufacturing systems integration” for its local wings and subassemblies operation.
Further international expansion has seen Aertec open offices in France, Portugal, Morocco and Jordan, undertaking projects in 16 countries on five continents, including work at more than 70 airports. The company employs 300 professionals and racked up sales of €16 million ($21.6 million) last year – about half coming from aerospace, which the firm considers its speciality.
Other work includes design of assembly tools, logistics and plant layout in Portugal for Embraer’s KC-390 military transport, and improvement of maintenance hangars and logistics used for in-service support of AgustaWestland helicopters used by the Portuguese air force.
De Melo Raposo describes his current turf, the UK, as “a strategic bet from several angles”. Airbus, of course, is a major local client, and its local suppliers are potential customers. But he also sees great opportunity in supporting UK companies as they look to expand abroad. Aertec sees the 2012 Aerospace Growth Partnership agreement between the UK government and aerospace industry as hugely significant. The scheme will see many tens of millions of government and industry pounds put into technology development, including the establishment of a centre for aerodynamics, and support for companies striving to move up the aerospace value chain.
In the UK, De Melo Raposo oversees half a dozen employees. He is recruiting, and at a stretch could double his head count by the end of 2014. But, he says, more likely will be modest growth, to eight or maybe 10. While “very confident” that the UK operation will ramp up substantially, he stresses that, for Aertec, expansion is a “step by step” process.
Elsewhere, Aertec is getting some work in Turkey and the Middle East is promising, notably Jordan. Bombardier’s plant in Casablanca is another good job in new territory.
But what he describes as “considerable prospects” in Asia and North America probably have to wait. Aertec, says De Melo Raposo, is a small company: “Our strategy is to be solid where we are.”