If Lord wanted to make its mark in the European fixed-wing market it could hardly have chosen a more apt acquisition than Fly-by-Wire. The US corporation bought FbW from SKF in June last year, adding to its diverse portfolio of “tip to tail aircraft systems” the French company’s range of cockpit inceptors. These include the sidesticks fitted in every Airbus – a key element of the airframer’s pioneering fly-by-wire philosophy, introduced with the A320 in the 1980s.
Lord – best known in the world of aerospace for its helicopter vibration control systems, although its products range from equipment mounts to rotor hub assemblies – is at the Paris air show awaiting the green light from the authorities to begin work on a new factory for its subsidiary, which is based in Saint-Vallier in south-east France. With legal formalities now complete, Bill Cerami, president of Lord’s aerospace and defence business, says “2017 will be the year we integrate FbW”.
The purchase – which has added about $40 million to its parent’s previous aerospace revenues of roughly $280 million – was part of a push by North Carolina-headquartered Lord, a privately-owned entity that serves the oil and gas, transportation, industrial equipment and automotive sectors, to establish a bigger industrial presence in Europe and in the airliner market. “We had become very strong in military and rotary wing,” says Cerami. “We wanted to rebalance to become more globalised with a rebalancing to commercial, and to set up a footprint outside the USA.”
While its newest acquisition gives $850 million-turnover Lord a firmer footing in European air transport, the company will “bring a new customer base and market access to FbW’s legacy business”. Lord’s existing technology is on pretty much every rotary wing platform launched in recent years.
Cerami describes Lord as a “tier 1.5” in the aerospace market. The company supplies many of its products, from actuation systems and bearings and dampers to cabin interior isolators, through tier one suppliers to the airframers. However, Lord also benefits from “strong collaboration” with the original equipment manufacturers (OEM), making it more than a traditional second-tier player, says Cerami.
Lord’s push into the fixed-wing segment has been driven partly by the downturn in two of its traditional markets – defence and offshore helicopters – although Cerami believes that “this will be the year that rotorcraft bottoms out”. Among the recent significant deals for the company on the fixed-wing side has been the contract – through Bombardier in Belfast – to design and build the engine mount system for the Pratt & Whitney PW1400G engine on the recently-flown Irkut MC-21.
Lord will stress its environmental credentials at Paris, through its involvement in two European Clean Sky initiatives. It designed and delivered the engine attach system for the Safran counter-rotating open rotor engine demonstrator that was due to begin ground-testing around now in Istres, France. Another Clean Sky effort, begun last year and due to conclude in 2022, will see the company design, build and test an engine attach system for the Safran-led Ultra High Propulsive Efficiency engine.
Further acquisitions are also possible, with the company saying it will “consider deals with enterprise value between $50 million and $500 million, a significant increase over our recent targets”. The company is scanning “globally” for potential targets, and in speciality chemicals and industrial machinery as wll as aerospace. However, it says Europe “remains a geographic priority for new acquisition to further our European growth strategy”. Ater FbW, it’s WtS – watch this space.