Aerospace is a lucrative market for composites manufacturers, but winning a contract with the major OEMs isn’t easy.
Composites manufacturers that serve the aerospace market are flying high. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are ramping up production to replace the world’s aging fleets with more fuel-efficient aircraft, and they’re increasingly incorporating lightweight composites into their designs.
Composites were first used in military aircraft four decades ago. Today the materials are used in everything from rotor blades to lavatories in aircraft including commercial jets and helicopters. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which debuted in 2007, was the first major airliner to feature an airframe constructed primarily of composite materials. The jet, which is 20 percent more fuel efficient than the previous model, is 80 percent composite by volume.
Other aerospace companies are following suit. The market for aerospace composites grew by double digits last year, according to a recent report from research firm Composite Insights. Visiongain, another market research firm, valued the industry as high as $10.3 billion in 2012 and predicts growth will continue during the next decade.
This is a golden opportunity for composites manufacturers, as getting in with large aerospace companies offers a number of perks.
“A key benefit from working in the aero[space] industry is the stability in demand and the possibility to carefully plan the business over extended time periods – not only months, but even years,” says Kees Reijnen, sales director at Zurich-based Gurit, a supplier to Airbus for more than 20 years. Gurit provides materials used in the interior of all Airbus models and in the secondary structure parts of the A320 and A330 series. The company also has worked with several of Boeing’s tier-1 suppliers for more than a decade, providing materials used in high-temperature sections of the air ducts in the 747 and 787 aircraft.
Quantum Composites has teamed with major aerospace OEMs in North America and Europe since 1991, providing discontinuous carbon and glass fiber molding compounds used in non-flight-critical secondary and tertiary parts. Its relationship with big aerospace manufacturers has helped the supplier win other business, says Steve Brown, a sales representative with the Bay City, Mich.-based company. “There’s definitely a cachet that comes with working with these large OEMs,” he says.
But that prestige comes with a price. While major aerospace companies offer opportunities, they also have stringent requirements, tough demands and plenty of red tape. It isn’t easy to win – and keep – their business. Here’s how you can.