One of the strengths of the Dutch aerospace industry is the versatility and ambition of its small and medium-size enterprises. Like many precision engineering SMEs in the industrial city of Eindhoven, KMWE began as a machine shop for electrics giant Philips in the 1950s. It moved into aerospace as one of many Dutch suppliers to Fokker. It still supplies the company's aerostructures business, but in recent years has expanded its customer base outside the Netherlands, directly supplying Airbus, Germany's Premium Aerotec and Hamilton Sundstrand in the USA.

KMWE, which also manufactures for the semiconductor and medical markets, will make about €6 million ($8.1 million) of its likely €26 million turnover this year from aerospace - but a higher proportion in contribution. Full rate production of the A380 and Boeing 787 - both of which it is a supplier to - should see aerospace grow its share further.

The business will also benefit from the Lockheed Martin F-35 programme, in which the Netherlands is participating. KMWE will manufacture small parts of the airframe and ship them to Fort Worth. "We're in preparation for that work, but we have new real potential to develop business with Lockheed Martin," says chief executive Edward Voncken.

The company, which employs 170 people including four aerospace engineers, manufactures in aluminium and titanium, but "not yet in composites". However, it believes its spread of activities across various markets, including both the defence and civil aerospace sectors and newer and mature programmes, gives its business a good balance.

KMWE took the decision to move up the supply chain and begin outsourcing in the late 1990s, taking on design, engineering and supply chain integration responsibilities for customers. This has accelerated in recent years. "The Netherlands is a high labour cost country so it is necessary to invest in automated processes," says Voncken.

The company has a joint venture manufacturing facility in Malaysia and is looking at co-operation in Turkey and South America. "We are competing globally so we are looking for new kinds of suppliers capable of manufacturing ready-to-install assemblies or subassemblies," says Voncken. "This is a major step from 10 years ago. The business that we are in is getting more and more mature."

As one of hundreds of enterprises across the world with fewer than 200 employees specialising in machining metal for aerospace, KMWE must punch above its weight. "The challenge is to become like a virtual company, managing large packages. The idea is that customers see you as a bigger company," says Voncken. This could be through global supply chain management or local clustering, where firms combine to compete for a contract.

This sort of approach to business needs nurturing. "Personal relationships and track records are key," adds aerospace account manager Peter van Lieshout. "It depends on an enormous amount of trust. It takes time and you have to invest. Customers want partners with a settled, stable management, modern business concepts and a clear strategy."

Source: Flight International