Jean-Claude Maillard is hoping for a rebound in fortunes this year for Figeac Aero, the engine parts and subassemblies manufacturer he founded 21 years ago. The company - based in south-west France - was hit badly by the collapse in 2008 of a key customer, Eclipse Aviation, for which it manufactured a bulkhead and other panels for the Eclipse 500 very light jet, as well as a lacklustre market generally.
It reversed a decade of strong growth for Figeac Aero, which also supplies aerostructures to Aerolia, Bombardier, Dassault, Embraer, Eurocopter, Gulfstream and Spirit AeroSystems and engine and landing gear components to Safran. Helped by a brace of acquisitions in 2002 and 2004 and some heavy investment in capacity, turnover had increased fourfold to €63 million ($82 million) between 1998 and 2008.
However, last year sales dropped to €48 million as production fell and the company was left with redundant inventory and unpaid bills from Eclipse. Maillard is convinced that 2010 will see turnover return to 2008 figures, with further growth to €70 million next year as the Airbus A350 XWB - its biggest contract - moves into volume production.
Figeac Aero is designing and manufacturing the widebody's section 12 floor assembly for Airbus unit Aerolia, the first time the company has had full design responsibility for a major element of a programme.
Privately run Figeac Aero - which has no connection to United Technologies-owned propeller manufacturer Ratier Figeac other than their eponymous shared home town in south-west France - is also outsourcing lower-value manufacturing to a new subsidiary in Tunisia, which will begin production in September. It will be employing 250 people by 2012, says Maillard.
He insists that France will remain the hub of the business. "We have invested considerably in high-speed machines in Figeac and we will be keeping our top- level technology and people there," he says. The reason for opening in North Africa is to make the production organisation as efficient as possible.
His customers can purchase parts anywhere from North America to Asia, and most of his global competitors, he says, can meet quality standards as well as a deadline. "We need to deliver a good product at the right time, but we want to do it at the right price too. Having the best production organisation means we can produce at the right price," he says.
© Figeac Aero
Maillard: French hub remains
The Tunisian venture - established near a factory of Aerolia - is the latest in a long string of diversifications for Figeac Aero, which has given it, says Maillard, a more vertically integrated structure and allowed it to compete for larger contracts.
It started with the purchase in 1994 of two small Decazeville-based companies: Usicap, a specialist in precision parts machining, and MTI, which produces sheet metalwork, mechanical welding and machined large parts. Another acquisition, Saint Cere-based tooling manufacturer R2Meca, followed in 1995, and two more in 2003 and 2004: local mechanical engineering concern Avantis Engineering and Brive-based surface treatment and machining specialist Mecabrive.
The workforce across the Figeac Aero group is now around 800, with 550 employed at the factory in Figeac itself.
Figeac Aero's range of capabilities include large structures, light alloy, hard metal and precision parts, as well as assembly and forming. In engines it produces blades and other parts.
Although most of its components are aluminium, Figeac Aero is moving into harder metals, with a new building specialising in steel and titanium opened in December. It is the latest move from a company unafraid to invest in new markets and capabilities.