Liebherr-Aerospace may be a relative minnow compared with most of its direct competitors, but two significant recent programme wins - on the Airbus A350 XWB and the Sukhoi Superjet 100 - have helped consolidate the Franco-German business in the first division of equipment suppliers in its three markets of air management systems, flight controls and actuation systems, and landing gear.
The business - which has its original and biggest manufacturing unit in Lindenberg in rural Bavaria near the Austrian border, but its head office in Toulouse - is well placed to compete for the next big prizes: "Our success criteria is to become a potential competitor on the next next-generation narrowbodies from Airbus and Boeing," says Jochen Mündelein executive vice-president sales and marketing.
This year Liebherr-Aerospace - part of the family-owned, Swiss-headquartered Liebherr industrial group - will break through the $1 billion revenue mark, a rise of 40% over the past five years. It is well placed to build on this once a series of recently secured contracts reach production. They include flight-control equipment on the Bombardier Learjet 85 and CRJ1000, and the complete landing gear on the Aermacchi M-346 advanced trainer, ARJ21 Chinese regional jet and Grob SPn light jet. The company is also supplying flight controls on the Airbus Military A400M transport and spoiler systems on the Airbus A380.
Liebherr is one of a group of Western manufacturers including Finmeccanica, Safran and Thales that have thrown their lot in with Russia's new Superjet regional jet. Liebherr-Aerospace's complete fly-by-wire system is the first time, says Mündelein, it has supplied a fully integrated flight-controls package on an aircraft programme. "It's a key project for us," he says.
An even bigger coup was the nose landing gear on the A350, where Liebherr beat Messier Dowty - its partner on earlier European projects such as the Airbus A300 and Eurocopter Tiger - and the world's other big player, Goodrich. "Until now we were going through Messier-Dowty on major landing gear projects," says Mündelein. "We decided to go in on our own and won. It really is a move forward."
Liebherr is moving forward with landing gear
Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg was founded at the turn of the 1960s, just as Germany was emerging from its post-war sanctions on aerospace manufacturing. After three decades of being a partner on various Airbus and pan-European military programmes as part of German industrial workshare, its first big overseas contract was in 1999, to supply the landing gear for Embraer's new 170/190 family of regional jets. It is also a supplier to Bombardier on the Challenger 300 and CRJ1000.
Today, Liebherr's aerospace business - which also builds rail and transport systems - represents about 15% of the overall Liebherr Group . It was restructured in 2001 and its headquarters moved to Toulouse to be near the programme offices of its biggest customer and today employs around 3,600 staff . As well as Lindenberg and Toulouse, it has two factories in Brazil and service operations in Canada, China, Singapore and the USA.
Airbus is still by far its biggest customer, representing about two-thirds of revenues across all three of Liebherr-Aerospace's business units, but the company is keen to break into Boeing. So far it has secured small but significant contracts - air conditioning on the 747-8 and some equipment on the 777 and 737. Liebherr last year opened an office in Everett, home to Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "Boeing is a very small customer, but the world might change," says Mündelein.
Despite being fairly new in some of its markets (it moved into air management in the mid-1980s, for instance), Mündelein believes Liebherr is being taken seriously as an aerospace player on the world stage - not just as part of the national supply chain for Europe's airframers - and can compete on an equal footing on future programmes with the likes of US giants Goodrich, Hamilton Sundstrand and Honeywell. "Now we are global," he says. "We are one of the big guys."
Source: Flight International