It didn’t take long for Mecaer America to become a leading player within niche markets in the aerospace industry’s North American region. Established in 2002, the high-flying, Montreal based business has recorded remarkably robust sales figures and completed major projects for top aviation OEMs. Dan Harvey describes how the company has soared so high.
Mecaer America Inc.’s 2002 emergence provided a new chapter in one of the aerospace industry’s longest-running narratives.
The Laval, Quebec-based enterprise represents the North American extension of Mecaer S.p.A., a Europebased business with deep roots dating as far back as 1902. The venerable parent company’s profile – its activities, substantial capabilities and inherent characteristics – readily applies to its successful progeny. Essentially, when you describe one, you describe the other.
Like its parent, the high-achieving Mecaer America is a leader in niche markets (helicopter and light-jet aircraft), and its inherited expertise in system design and integration ensured “chip off of the block”-styled success. Transcending transcontinental boundaries, Mecaer provides leading original equipment manufacturers throughout the world with a broad product range (landing gear and flight control systems, hydraulic valves, actuators, dampers, power modules, etc.) and turnkey MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) services.
Mecaer’s international headquarters and European operations are located in Borgomanero, Italy. Operating since 1902, the Borgomanero manufacturing site was eventually acquired by Savoia Marchetti, Italy’s oldest aerospace firm. Later, it became part of AgustaWestland, a helicopter designer and manufacturer formed in 2000 and based in Italy and the United Kingdom.
In 1995, private investors acquired the Borgomanero-based business and expanded it from a small shop that manufactured single components into a large facility that services leading helicopter and light-aircraft OEMs. Today, the 95,000-square-foot facility, which employs some 200 people, is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and utilizes advanced manufacturing processes to design, build, test and support hydraulic and mechanical integrated solutions for aerospace.
In 2002, Mecaer decided to expand its reach into North America by establishing facilities in Montreal and transferring its substantial attributes to that location. The company achieved its aims by acquiring Performance L.T. Inc. Established in 1984, Performance L.T. built itself a solid reputation based on high quality levels and low-cost manufacturing capabilities related to development and manufacture of landing gear systems. “Then, in 2006, this Canadian operation was officially renamed Mecaer America Inc.,” recalls Director of Marketing Roberto Tonna.
ASSUMING THE MISSION MANTLE
In the past seven years, in its designated region of the world, Mecaer America has effectively carried out the parent company’s stated mission to provide the most advanced solutions for world-class aerospace customers. Besides AgustaWestland, companies it works with include Agusta Aerospace Corporation, Bell Helicopter Textron, Diamond Aircraft, Eclipse Aviation Corporation, Spectrum Aeronautical and Goodrich Landing Gear.
In addition to its wide-ranging product line and capabilities, Mecaer America offers value-added services such as kitting, just-in-time deliveries (enabled by the company’s advanced information technology capabilities), on-site installation and after-sales support. As far as kitting, Mecaer was among the first to apply the concept to aerospace products. The innovative approach hands Mecaer responsibility for supply-chain management, an arrangement that provides customers with substantial reductions related to inventory overhead and warehouse management costs, as well as guaranteed on-time deliveries, among other benefits.
Further, Mecaer equips its facilities with leading-edge labs that perform a comprehensive range of qualification testing (strength, stress, environment, endurance and fatigue). Even more, with its testing capabilities, Mecaer can confidently guarantee competitive turnaround times related to prototype manufacture for installation in flight-test aircraft.
NEIGHBORING MANUFACTURING SITES
Mecaer America currently operates out of two adjacent facilities in Laval, both of which reside in close proximity to major Montreal area OEMs. “The first and older facility is a 30,000-square-foot site dedicated to machining the major components that go into our assemblies,” describes Tonna. “These components include main fittings, cylinders and pistons.”
He adds that the facility can machine all types of materials. “We manufacture hydraulic and mechanical products with materials ranging from stainless and high-tensile steels up to aluminum and titanium,” he points out.
In 2006, Mecaer America expanded operations to include a 22,000-square-foot facility situated right across the street from the older site. “It includes final assembly lines and testing equipment, as well as new office space and stores,” informs Tonna.
The new site, where machined components and sub-assemblies efficiently move from shop floor to dedicated assembly lines, represents a multi-million-dollar investment, as reported by Mecaer General Manager for Business Development & Programs Armando Sassoli. It also serves as a repair station for Mecaer’s North American activities.
While the company has yet to implement any formalized lean manufacturing programs at either site, it has continuous improvement initiatives in place. Further, it engages a quality system that guarantees that all engineering, manufacturing and after-sale support activities adhere to strict industry standards. The company has achieved AS9100/ISO 9001:2000 certification and acquired airworthiness certifications from Transport Canada.
The company indicates that physical expansion has contributed to a significant growth level (in terms of dollars and activities) achieved in a relatively short time. In only a few years, Mecaer America managed to place itself in charge of major landing gear programs. “These include the AgustaWestland AW109 helicopter, the Eclipse Aviation E500 and the Diamond Aircraft DJet very-light-jets,” reports Tonna. “Also, in our contract with Goodrich Landing Gear, we work on the Gulfstream G450, G550 and G650 programs. Our outstanding performance convinced Goodrich that we were ready to assume full system integration responsibility, to the point that we are now their licensee on a major rotary wing program.” Other significant projects include the Bell Helicopter 429.
As far as sales, Mecaer demonstrates the trajectory of a rocket. “At the outset, when Performance L.T. was acquired, annual revenues were about $5 million (Canadian). We have been growing upward ever since,” reports Tonna. “Last year, revenues increased from $11 million to $19 million.”
Growth is also manifested in staffing size and expertise. “At the time of acquisition, the roster included 60 people. Now, we have about 100 employees, and recent hires came in the areas of engineering, final assembly and supply-chain main management,” says Tonna. “These functions weren’t present at the outset.”
Moving forward, the company plans on remaining focused on its niche (helicopters and light aircraft) while stepping up its after-sales service, including as-needed on-site support. Meanwhile, Mecaer America’s sizeable contribution to the most successful aerospace programs has increased its industry profile and credibility. Like all businesses in every industry, the company is closely monitoring the current global economic situation, but it is confident that it will weather the storm and experience yet another strong year in 2009. Indeed, as Tonna indicates, Mecaer America already has a sizeable backlog of orders for programs already in production.