Success in the aerospace business is about much more than being the lowest-cost competitor, argues Switzerland's industry body

Switzerland's smaller aerospace enterprises are fighting low-cost competition from Asia and eastern Europe with that trusty weapon that has served the country's producers for decades: quality and reliability. Although the Swiss franc's modest slide in value against the euro has helped, Switzerland's workers remain among the best-paid in the world and, like its watches, Swiss aeronautical craftsmanship does not come cheap.

However, Benno Winkler, of Swiss industry association Swissmem, insists the country's aerospace is competitive in a global economy. "It is all about knowledge and automisation. Take the precision casings of turbine blades. You cannot do that easily somewhere else.


You have to set up the production where you have the knowledge and that is why we are successful," he says. Winkler knows of instances where customers have moved production from Switzerland, before returning, despite higher costs, because they could not match Swiss standards elsewhere.

Swissmem represents about 30 SMEs in the aerospace sector. Much of their activity has been as a result of miltary offset contracts,although non-defence customers such as Airbus and the European Space Agency alsofigure. As in other countries, "clustering" - where specialist SMEs collaborate to compete for larger pieces of work as a "one-stop shop" - has become more important, with Swissmem often acting as facilitator.

Where Swiss industry is conceding ground is in "non-critical" parts. "There is more possibility to switch production to another country and we have to face the fact there is worldwide competition," says Winkler. "Swiss companies no longer just have to be best in Europe. They have to be best in their class."

Source: Flight International