Winning the Contract
Jumping through the hoops required to bid for a large aerospace OEM’s business is a formidable task, but it doesn’t guarantee a contract. To actually ink a deal, composites suppliers need a value proposition.
“We are looking for innovative suppliers able to propose advanced materials allowing Airbus aircraft to be competitive, but also reliable suppliers able to master the quality of their production,” says Thiebault.
Service is also a factor that can help seal the deal. Gurit has succeeded thanks to its technical application and product innovation support, Reijnen says. For example, when working with prepreg materials, untrained staff at aerospace companies may produce poor parts, yield high scrap rates and work inefficiently, he says. To reduce such problems, Gurit trains customers when working with new designs, machinery or staff.
“At a Chinese customer not previously experienced [in] processing prepreg, Gurit technical support allowed good parts to be produced almost from the start and without any ongoing support within a week’s time,” Reijnen says.
The company also works with customers on cost out and product modifications to enable automated processing without requiring new qualification of materials. “Gurit managed for an aerospace carbon UD tape product to make a change to a lower cost grade of carbon fiber and to change the product properties with regard to tack and resin flow to the extent that an automated tape-laying process at the customer became reality without costly requalification needs,” Reijnen says.
Brown says he believes Quantum Composites continues to win aerospace contracts on the basis of quality. He also adds that Quantum’s material cures quickly and lends itself to automated processing. “You can mold a part in 10 to 15 minutes as opposed to making a few per day by hand layup or autoclave,” he says. “Our value proposition is not only cost but the ability to rapidly increase production.”
Small companies can get a foot in the door by focusing on specific materials for smaller applications, Airbus’ Thiebault says. “For instance, the interior area is less stringent than the structural one in terms of certification and [is] probably easier to start with.”
Innovation also is important. Airbus asks suppliers how they are preparing for the future through investments and research and development programs.
Keeping the Business
Winning a contract with major aerospace OEMs can be time-consuming, labor-intensive and costly. For composites manufacturers to achieve a return on their investments, they need to stay in it for the long haul.