Hector Fuentes
Operations Manager
GKN Aerospace

Global Aerostructures Supplier Finds Support in Mexicali

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 18:16

Aircraft makers target weight reduction in the same way other manufacturers target lower costs. Aerostructures giant GKN Aerospace has found a way to do both by moving part of its composites manufacturing to Mexicali, says Hector Fuentes, the company’s Operations Manager.
The facilities of the company’s GKN Composites division in Mexicali support the sister division in Alabama. “This plant helps to reduce costs by manufacturing simple parts. Mexicali is a low-cost region, which allows us to lower overall manufacturing costs. The facility also freed up space in Alabama and allowed the latter plant to accept new projects,” says Fuentes. Composites, which are made of two or more different materials in which one acts as a matrix and the other as reinforcement, permit the generation of components that are often stronger than each individual one. Moreover, composites are lighter, making them an essential tool for the aerospace sector, which is on a constant lookout for lighter materials because lighter aircraft use less fuel.
Fuentes says his goal is to expand the plant by attracting new customers. “At this point, this facility in Mexicali is still at half capacity so we are prioritizing its full occupation.” The plant’s capabilities include metal cutting and perforating but the company aims to incorporate CNC machining and nondestructive testing (NDT), followed by assembly. “This will allow us to offer a comprehensive service which is what most of our clients are requesting,” he adds.
GKN Composites manufactures exclusively for Alabama, but as the facility incorporates more processes it plans to eventually acquire more clients. To do so, the plant must face the challenges that are hitting other companies in the state, such as talent attraction. “Mexicali has talented people but they are in high demand by local companies. We require individuals with very specific manual skills. They can almost be considered artisanal. Acquisition of human talent is not a challenge at the moment but it has been at different points in time.”
Another challenge is acquiring raw materials and special treatments in the state. “Most of our raw materials are imported from California as I am unaware of any supplier in Mexico that produces them. However, we try to use local suppliers as much as possible. In that sense, the generation of a local supply chain would be ideal for local manufacturers,” says Fuentes. GKN Composites is constantly looking for local suppliers but another possibility is to bring their existing supplier base to Mexicali. “This could be an attractive opportunity for suppliers once they take into account the many possibilities in Baja California, Chihuahua and Queretaro.”
That would also help defer the problems it sometimes encounters at customs. “Many companies in the state find customs to be a challenge for their operations. This can be minimized with good planning and logistics, but we still have run into hurdles; for instance, one of our raw materials is a chemical that takes a significantly long time to be processed and furthermore it has to be kept refrigerated at all times, which forces us to plan ahead on its importation to ensure its integrity.”
An alternative, he explains, is the creation of a refrigeration unit not just for GKN Composites but for all companies in Mexicali that require it. “This unit would be used to hold chemicals while they are at the border, liberating significant production space, which is now occupied by a freezer inside the plant.” GKN Composites and other companies in the state are collaborating with the Ministry of Commerce to develop this unit and an analysis area for composites.
GKN Composites is also focusing on increasing its manufacturing. “We had high growth expectations for 2017 but several external situations have delayed a few projects until 2018.” To ensure continued growth, GKN works closely with Aerospace Alliance of Baja California and the Ministry of Commerce for business development among local companies. The alliance acts as a business facilitator and supports training in the state, says Fuentes, who has high expectations for the industry. “The aerospace sector is growing in Mexico as the country is doing the right things to become attractive to foreign players.”