Like many of its European counterparts, USA-based Crane Aerospace & Electronics recognises the importance of gaining a footprint in the Far East, both to take advantage of a lower cost environment and to make its mark in a key growth market for aerospace, writes Helen Massy-Beresford.

The company has opened a manufacturing plant in Taiwan to feed into its facility in Washington, and expansion is likely. "There's lots of capacity left in Taiwan," says chief executive Eric Fast.

Lower labour costs are the key factor making the region attractive, he says, adding: "We have to continue to drive down the costs because there's pressure on prices across the chain. In the long term it's healthy for the whole industry." But the insistence on being able to supply a high quality product, on time, must not be compromised by the need to seek out low cost economies, he adds.

Crane's aerospace business, its ranking in the Top 100 by revenue unchanged this year at 73, manufactures products ranging from microwave to fluid management systems, and from electrical power to landing systems.

Eric Fast - CRANE 
Finding skilled engineersis a challenge for the whole industry, says Crane's Eric Fast
The company's strategy is to focus on highly specialised areas of the business. "We are typically number one, with a very large market share because we focus on niche markets," says Fast.

The company's stability comes in part from the spread of its customers across the civil and military sectors. The modification and upgrade side of the business is also gaining momentum, accounting for more than half of the company's aerospace sales this year.

The company, which posted sales of $554 million last year, sets a lot of store on research and development, investing on average around 12-13% of its revenues, according to Fast. It has performed well in the margin ranking in this year's survey, claiming the number 36 spot.

"Boeing and Airbus put such a premium on the advanced state of the technology," Fast says, and the company's priorities are to "make sure the technology works, deliver on time - and do both first and then make money".

Parent company Crane is a diversified manufacturer, with a presence in other industry areas such as fluid handling, controls, engineered materials and merchandising systems, and is able to take advantage of crossover between the various market segments. For example, microelectronic technologies that are currently aimed at the medical sector could find application in defence programmes, Fast says.

Crane Aerospace & Electronics is made up of seven separate companies, with the wider Crane company made up of subsidiary businesses totalling over 100.

Recruiting young people into aerospace is one of the biggest hurdles to growth in the industry, says Fast. "The challenge to the whole industry is finding the engineers to do the work," he adds.

The company has several initiatives in place to promote aerospace engineering at local colleges and Fast believes Crane offers an attractive prospect for potential employees, with engineers working in different areas of the business able to share their skills and transfer between sectors.


Source: Flight International