If there was one definitive theme to Don Majcher's presentation at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers' 2012 Annual Conference in Cleveland, it was that there are myriad opportunities in the aerospace industry for savvy suppliers.
"The aerospace industry is a growth industry," declared Majcher, who is vice president, technology and innovation partnerships, for the Ohio Aerospace Institute.
There's certainly plenty of data to back that up. Aerospace manufacturers exported more in 2010 -- $80.5 billion worth of products -- than any other sector, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
And Boeing Co. (IW 500/16), in its latest forecast, predicts that the current global fleet of commercial airplanes will double over the next two decades, to the tune of 34,000 new jets in a $4.5 trillion market.
In a "very supply chain-driven industry," opportunities abound for aerospace suppliers, Majcher said, and not just in obvious areas such as engines, avionics, interior systems and parts for jumbo jets. They include:
- Simulation systems for training of pilots and air-traffic-control operators.
- Unmanned aerial vehicles, already a $2 billion segment of civil aerospace production (according to 2009 data).
- Next-generation space access (see SpaceX).
- Lightweight supersonic business jets.
- Green aviation -- nonpetroleum-based aviation fuels and other advanced-energy sources.
- Maintenance, repair and overhaul.
Working in smaller suppliers' favor is the fact that the Tier 1 suppliers "are getting out of manufacturing," Majcher said.
"They're really becoming more the system integrators at the top," he added. "They're consolidating their supply sources, and they're pushing [work] down to small businesses.
"They're driving lean, they're driving [cost] reductions, but innovative small businesses have the opportunity to take on more value, more product in the supply chain."
Majcher presented several examples of suppliers of various sizes that have leveraged product and process innovation to find their niches in the aerospace industry.
There's Euclid, Ohio-based MesoCoat Inc., a venture-backed nanotechnology startup that calls itself "the new Duracell of the coating industry."
MesoCoat has developed a process in which a high-intensity light source rapidly fuses protective cladding material on steel pipes and tubes, plates, sheets and bars. The company says its CermaClad process is 20% cheaper and up to 100 times faster than other methods used to clad metal surfaces, and it produces a true metallurgical bond.
"They're bringing something new to the marketplace that's going to work better than what's in the market," Majcher said.
He also pointed to Meggitt PLC, a U.K.-based manufacturer of "extreme-environment components and smart subsystems for aerospace, defense and energy markets," according to its website. The company recently won a contract to provide fire-protection systems for the Airbus A320 NEO.
Majcher noted that the firm has invested in chemical vapor deposition carbon manufacturing technology, and is reaping the rewards.
"They're able to make wheels and brakes and other materials through this technology," Majcher said. "They've built their whole production around this, whether it's the molding, the intermediate machining, the final machining, the furnace processing, carbonized cloth manufacturing or final product.
"So they've taken a view of, 'How can I build around that capability to stay ahead of the curve?'"
Another example is Innovative Developments LLC, a Chesterland, Ohio-based startup that has developed the Mycestro, a wearable hands-free human interface that enables users to control various computer programs.
Majcher noted that the Mycestro has garnered attention from a major defense contractor, which sees the potential to use the device as a controller for unmanned aerial vehicles.