After 50 years manufacturing aluminium for aerospace, Alu Menziken sees a secure future despite the rise of composites
A century after Swiss entrepreneur Alfred Gautschi discovered a way of using a new lightweight raw material to manufacture in-demand items such as car motor housings and tobacco packet foils, the firm he founded has become one of the aerospace industry's biggest suppliers of aluminium components. Headquartered in an imposing if incongruous 1960s tower block in the small Aargau town of Menziken - next to one of its four factories - Alu Menziken diversified into aerospace 50 years ago and today the market represents around two-thirds of the business's 190 million ($296 million) revenues. Virtually all of the world's major airframers are among Alu Menziken's customers for products ranging from seat tracks and guide vanes to stringers and cleats. Each Airbus A380, for instance, contains 1,800 Alu Menziken cleats, comprising 700 different designs.
The company's biggest advantage is its vertical integration, says marketing manager Markus Krummenacher. With capabilities for research and development of new alloys, billet casting, manufacturing extrusions and machining parts on CNC machines, as well as carrying out surface treatments and sub-assemblies, Alu Menziken claims to be the only aluminium supplier able to offer a seamless raw material to finished product service. "Our one-stop-shop philosophy is designed to reduce lead times and cost to the customer," says Krummenacher.
Alu Menziken counts the world's major airframers among its customers
As well as a second plant in the neighbouring Wynental valley town of Reinach, the company has sites in Anaheim, California and Canton, Georgia, which trade as Universal Alloy, the concern Alu Menziken bought in 1991. The company has a total of just over 1,000 employees in Switzerland and the USA, about a third of them working in the other part of Alu Menziken's Swiss business: industrial extrusions. Half of Alu Menziken's aerospace revenues come from Airbus and Boeing - two thirds if direct suppliers are included - says Krummenacher, with the Swiss plants serving the European airframer and Universal Alloy Boeing.
Control of Alu Menziken was sold by the founding family to Austria-based Montana Tech Components last year, and the new parent - which owns the Varta Micro Power batteries brand as well as a metallurgy business - plans to invest SFr18-27 million ($18-27 million) in the European aerospace business with the intention of achieving over three-five years a "substantial increase in turnover while maintaining profitability". Universal Alloy chief executive John Ball will take over responsibility for the European aerospace activities - which are being split from the remainder of the Swiss operation - to help "drive the profitable business unit into an expansion phase".
Despite the rise of composites in aerospace manufacturing, Krummenacher believes traditional metal has a secure future. "Our biggest competitor is 'black metal'," he says, "But there are still many applications where it does not make sense to manufacture with composites, particularly when it comes to small parts. With new lighter alloys always coming on the market, aluminium will remain important."
Source: Flight International