Visitors to the Safran exhibit at Paris are unlikely to dispute executive vice-president, aircraft equipment Yves Leclère's claim that the Paris-headquartered aerospace, defence and security group - whose heritage runs from the Gnome rotaries that powered First World War aviation to today's CFM56s and the Vulcain 2s that heft Ariane 5 rockets to orbit - is strong in the technology department.

"We have made breakthroughs decade after decade," says Leclère. At Paris, Safran is showing, for the first time, a mock-up of the Leap turbofan it is developing with CFM partner General Electric to replace the CFM56, and its Aircelle units new Leap nacelle, the Arriel 2 helicopter powerplant under development by its Turbomeca unit, "green taxiing" and the push for more-electric aircraft, and new ideas that promise to improve airport security.

But while Safran is confident of its engineering capability, Leclère admits that it has not been as consistent when it comes to bringing technology to market, a relative weakness it shares with many technology-driven companies. Recognising this, Safran has created a "transformation department" headed by Leclère, a member of the executive board since 2009.

Yves L'eclre
© Safran

Leclère's job is to ensure that Safran stands solidly on three pillars: research and technology, innovation and day-to-day improvement.

Research and technology is the core laboratory capability that is ultimately behind the sort of hardware that Safran is proudly displaying at Paris. But the second pillar, innovation, represents a particular management challenge to which Leclère will be dedicating much attention.

Innovation is possible, he says, when technological readiness and market readiness move in tandem. While the engineering teams can usually be confident that a product is technically ready for supply to a customer, it will probably fail commercially if customers are not yet ready for it.

As a company strategy, Safran intends to be faster than its rivals to market new technology, but to achieve that demands more than merely excellent engineering; it takes being first to market, but not being ahead of the market - so the market has to be prepared in advance. That is, it takes mixed teams of engineering and sales people with a strong will to push ahead of rivals to realise the transformation of technology into market success.

As a good example of success, Leclère points to Safran's pioneering efforts to introduce carbon brakes for airliners in the 1980s.

While today it seems obvious that carbon brakes are a good idea, saving 600kg (1,320lb) per aircraft, it was at first "a big challenge" to convince airlines that they were as safe and reliable as the steel brakes with which they had so much experience.

Safran's approach to market was important, he says. Matching the cost of steel brakes, Safran's CFM sales team worked airline by airline to convince the market that carbon brakes would exceed steel performance in safety and maintenance. This careful approach succeeded in lifting carbon's market share from 1% to 30-40% over 10 years.

The same technique of approaching key airline customers will be used to push the electrically driven "green taxiing" nose wheel concept.

The third pillar, day-to-day improvement, sounds less dramatic but is equally important and embodied in the "Safran+" project to embed a mindset of continuous improvement, says Leclère. Simple or complex ideas, he says, can improve the working environment, production processes, etc, and, like innovation, need pro-active support to succeed.

Source: Flight Daily News