The key to a lasting relationship with an aerospace manufacturer, Reijnen says, is “not giving the customer any reason to change: good delivery record, technical application support, ongoing competitive pricing [and] support in product innovation within the framework of existing product qualifications.”
Meeting deadlines is especially important, but it’s also imperative that suppliers can increase production as needed and be prepared to fill short-flow orders. “If Boeing wanted to triple its production tomorrow, we could scale up pretty rapidly to meet their needs,” says General Plastics’ Stan.
Major aerospace companies are large, complex organizations with many departments. “To establish a relationship with each group takes a long time,” says Quantum’s Douglas. “Coordination becomes a challenge.”
To help ensure that its relations with Boeing go smoothly, General Plastics has a dedicated account manager who sits in on planning meetings with the company. “You have to make sure your planning is in sync with Boeing’s planning,” Stan says. “Our goal is to meet their needs.”
When the time comes to renew contracts, which for General Plastics and Boeing happens every three to four years, Stan says it pays to be straightforward. “Both parties have to come to the table with mutual respect,” he says. The end result has to be a win for them and a win for us; if it’s not, it won’t work.”
Long development cycles for aircraft can mean it might be seven to 10 years from the time a supplier establishes a relationship with the OEM until the final product goes online. “It’s certainly not a quick payback business model,” says Quantum’s Brown. “It will be costly and take a long time, and you better have some other source of revenue or else have very deep pockets.”
But in the end, establishing a solid relationship with an aerospace OEM can mean a steady and lucrative source of business for composites suppliers.