Luis Carlos Ramírez
Managing Director
Kaman Aerospace
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View from the Top

Cluster Increases Efforts to Build Chihuahua’s Supply Chain

By Antonio Gozain | Tue, 03/01/2022 - 12:00

Q: What role does Kaman play in the Mexican aerospace supply chain?

A: Kaman delivers unique services in the region and in Mexico, including hydroforming processes, heat treatments and some bends in extrusion structures using “hot joggle” technology. These processes provide the region with unique abilities and make it more flexible and open to new business opportunities, attracting new clients and diversifying the product portfolio.

Q: How has Chihuahua’s Aerospace Cluster grown over the past 12 years?

A: The cluster has grown exponentially. In the beginning, there were only five members: Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Honeywell, Zodiac and Safran. The last one is a Tier 1 and a major employer in the sector, while the others manufactured original equipment. Since then, the Chihuahua Aerospace Cluster has diversified and expanded to over 30 associates, including Mexican companies and favoring local integration and growth.

Last year’s strategies were successful, allowing for the consolidation of the quadruple helix, which brings together government, academia, private companies and civil society. The link with education was undertaken with business association Index and groups such as Chihuahua Futura, which is a 25-year-plan for local development project.

Q: How has Kaman changed operations from maquila to more complex processes?

A: Kaman has worked hard in terms of industrialization, processes improvement and personnel training. It has developed strategies to shorten delivery times and improve product quality. The plant in Chihuahua is free to act and make decisions.

Maquilas used to have a negative connotation, as they were perceived to do simple labor. Now, we have engineers redesigning processes to make the highest-quality parts. In the aerospace industry, designs can be too old and Mexican companies are updating them and ensuring that they correspond to the manufacturing reality.

Q: Kaman is one of the six OEMs operating in Chihuahua. How has the company developed the local supply chain over the past 10 years?

A: Developing a local supply chain was difficult in the beginning due to the strict requirements for the manufacture of defense products. However, Kaman has developed local tooling suppliers for commercial products. For raw materials, we were lucky to find an international company that produced locally and then a Mexican company with which we optimized materials and delivery times to ensure supply.

We also work with local machining companies, although there have been several challenges in the sector following the Boeing 737 Max crisis and the pandemic.

Q: What are the main challenges of developing the local aerospace supply chain?

A: Kaman has worked to integrate parts from local manufacturers into the supply chain, instead of importing them from the US. We have struggled to do so because some national companies follow processes that are highly different from those required by global companies. However, we have guided Mexican companies and exchanged ideas to continue improving.

In addition, local quoting methodology has some disadvantages because some local companies are unable to make large material purchases and benefit from economies of scale, so their costs skyrocket. Their methods also require more work on continuous improvement and optimization. Communication must flow between international and national companies to continue developing the industry in the region.

Q: What are the main challenges and opportunities for the development of the Mexican aerospace industry?

A: There are several challenges. Several people in the industry are going to retire and it is difficult to find workers in the US, so many positions remain vacant. Several companies are moving their operations to Mexico as a result.

Aerospace innovation centers have opened in the Bajio region and in Chihuahua with the support of Siemens and Safran. These centers, linked with academia to develop talent, will be decisive factors for the growth of the Mexican aerospace industry. In addition, the country needs public policies that create legal certainty and trust. Several international companies invest in Mexico but the country does not take full advantage. We need better public policies to take advantage of the opportunities that exist or are emerging for both companies and the government.

 

Kaman, one of the eight aerospace OEMs present in Mexico, provides a streamlined, single accountability solution for the design and production of critical components, structures and systems for the global aerospace and defense industries.

Antonio Gozain Antonio Gozain Journalist and Industry Analyst