The relatively little-known name McBraida is up in lights for anyone arriving at Rzeszow airport in southern Poland. Facing the terminal, the neon logo of the British engineering company adorns the side of the 3,100m2 (33,400ft2) factory it opened in 2013. Privately-owned McBraida’s first overseas facility manufactures mainly build-to-print, high-precision engine components for Rolls-Royce and other propulsion companies including MTU and Safran, and has allowed the 60-year-old business to expand in a way it probably could not have in the UK.

The decision to opt for a new factory in Poland’s main aerospace cluster was several-fold, explains plant manager Malgorzata Poczatek, who was McBraida Polska’s first employee, beginning as project manager as the building was being erected in 2012, before recruiting and now managing the subsidiary’s 60 employees. “We lacked capacity in the UK when there was an upturn in the market. There were some incentives that Poland was offering, and the other companies in Aviation Valley ensured there was an availability of a skilled workforce, and the possibility of us diversifying our customer portfolio,” she says.

That last factor has worked out well for McBraida. MTU is its next-door neighbour and there are three other engine system manufacturers – General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Safran – in Rzeszow or the wider region. “Initially, we took on parts transferred from the UK, but we also managed to attract some other customers from companies based here, and we have implemented more than 300 part numbers,” says Poczatek. “We have managed to get approvals. Poland is still considered the best-cost country, so we have a good chance of attracting more customers. We are at a very high level of efficiency.”

Challenges remain for a relatively new small or medium-sized enterprise like McBraida. One is staff recruitment and retention. Such has been the success of Aviation Valley that jobs for skilled machinists and engineers are being filled quicker than the local industry can train them. “The upturn means that more and more companies are competing for the workforce,” she says. “Because we produce so many part numbers, we need to be constantly training. But it can take three or four months to train someone and then a further year before we can say this is a machinist that we can rely on,” she adds.

Another hurdle is going through the approval process and ramping up production of so many separate parts for new customers – some 60 or 70 each year, she says. A third is the lack of local providers of special processes, such as heat treatment and anodising. “We still have to send many parts abroad – sending it to the UK can take a week to get there and a week to come back – so this is something we have to develop [in Aviation Valley]. There is a growing demand, but because these are quite dirty processes, you really need a separate facility,” adds Poczatek.

Another UK company could soon be helping fill that void. Poeton – which employs 240 people in Gloucester and Cardiff producing specialist surface treatments for a range of industries – has set up an offshoot in Aeropolis, a science and technology “incubator” beside the airport. So far, project manager Aneta Cygan-Rzeminska is its only employee but she expects this to change quickly as the company moves ahead with plans to open a production line in the first quarter of 2018. Initially, it will be based in a hall in Aeropolis, but Cygan-Rzeminska hopes to find a site to open a new facility within three years, possibly in Rzeszow.

“With Aviation Valley gathering all the aerospace companies here, a lot of them need detailed processes, and in Poland there are not many companies offering these,” she says. “Parts are being shipped to other European countries, or even Asia and the USA, a very complicated process, not just in time but in paperwork.” Equipment has already arrived and the company plans to introduce its first services – painting, degreasing and anodising – in the first quarter, with a waste treatment line following in “the second stage”, she says.

Cygan-Rzeminska expects to have between five and 10 employees by the summer, but this will rise to three figures by the end of 2019. Unlike many other Aviation Valley recruiters, the family-owned company’s target employees have a chemistry degree rather than engineering qualifications. “I am talking to the universities,” she says. However, equally important is to find “very ambitious and intelligent people who have a good background from their studies. Attitude is the most important thing, and then you can shape them.”

For Cygan-Rzeminska it has been a frantic few months. “All our processes must be in place before we can earn any revenues, so we are doing everything in parallel: talking to potential clients, getting our approvals, ordering the equipment, employing the people,” she says. However, she is optimistic. “There are already customers who are very interested,” she says. “In a few years, we will adjust to the needs of the customers and be a one-stop-shop here in Aviation Valley for everything that needs coating.”


Source: Flight International