Denel Aerostructures pursuing commercial aerospace work

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Denel Aerostructures is in the process of diversifying into commercial aerospace manufacturing as part of its turnaround strategy and recently received a new contract to manufacture winglets for a US-based business jet.

The contract for the manufacturing of the winglets “was an important achievement,” Denel’s 2013 annual report said, and highlights Denel Aerostructures’ (DAe’s) ability to manufacture flight critical components out of composite materials. The awarding of the contract is the result of a competitive bidding process and the successful conclusion of a comprehensive due diligent audit of DAe’s facilities and processes by the Original Equipment Manufacturer.

The new jet component contract adds to the list of OEMs that have partnered with Denel Aerostructures in recent years, a list which also includes Boeing, Airbus, Saab, BAE Systems and AgustaWestland to name a few. “The contract represents an important milestone for DAe as it enters into the North American business jet aerospace market,” the company said. DAe has, for more than ten years, also been contracted to manufacture tailplanes for Gulfstream G150 business jets through a Tier 1 company.

The manufacturing of five major components for the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft is Denel Aerostructures’ core business activity but the company’s turnaround strategy, which aims to see profitability by 2016, involves growing the revenue base and increasing orders, especially in the commercial arena. DAe hopes to become a Tier 1 supplier and deliver aircraft parts to OEMs like Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer, Superjet, Gulfstream and their super Tier 1 suppliers, such as Spirit AeroSystems, GKN Aerospace, Premium Aerotec and Sogerma.

The company is looking at diversifying and is very interested in the rail sector, especially with the government spending billions of rands on recapitalising its rolling stock. DAe CEO Ismail Dockrat told defenceWeb that rail is the prime focus at the moment but DAe may go into the contested solar power industry at a later stage. DAe has not received any rail contract yet but is “conservatively upbeat” about receiving an order for parts production.

In order to invest for the future, DAe is exploring a variety of advanced manufacturing techniques, such as additive manufacturing. DAe is working with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on sintering processes (using heat and/or pressure to fuse together a powder to create a part) and is also focusing heavily on composite parts as these offer major weight and cost savings. Theo Kleynhans, DAe Deputy CEO and COO, noted that jigless assembly, 3D printing, plastic forming and other techniques are the way of the future and that it was “important for us to keep our fingers on the pulse” by keeping up to date with these developments.

DAe’s core business is producing components for the A400M, and this will see the company kept busy for at least six to seven more years. DAe was recently awarded a fourth and fifth contract from Airbus Defence and Space, for the supply of ISO locks and the Central Guide Vehicle Restraint System (CGVRS) for the A400M’s cargo hold. With a combined value of R330 million, these contracts will see the rails and cross tracks being delivered to international clients over the next six years. The tender was won through a competitive bidding process against international competitors.

The ISO locks and the CGVRS components are being manufactured to designs received from Airbus. Each A400M has a system of rails and cross tracks inside the cargo hold to guide movement of the ISO containers when the aircraft is in service. There are four parallel sets of aluminium rails and 32 cross tracks in the aircraft’s cargo hold. Transported equipment is packed inside containers which are then loaded along the rails into the aircraft fuselage. A system of locking mechanisms keeps the containers secure in flight. The CGVRS will facilitate the movement of emergency supplies which are dropped from the air by the A400M. These smaller containers are usually filled with humanitarian aid, food and emergency supplies

The first ship set will be delivered to the A400M fuselage assembly facility in Germany by September. Dockrat said that the ISO locks were requested about a year ago, with production starting around August 2013 in a trial batch. DAe will deliver 20 ship sets per year.

DAe already manufactures the Top Shells and Wing-to-Fuselage Fairing for the A400M, as well as the ‘ribs, spars and sword’ that form the inside structure of the A400M’s vertical tail plane. The seven metre by two metre structure has been designed by Denel Aerostructures and is manufactured out of composite materials.

DAe is bidding on additional A400M work. “We can take on more A400M work quite comfortably,” Dockrat said. He added that “we are very grateful to Airbus,” as the A400M programme has turned DAe into a serious supplier on a major programme that will last decades. It has given the company credibility which can be used to attract further customers. “The level of confidence in Denel Aerostructures and the South African aerospace industry has grown tremendously in the last 24 months.”

Indeed, it is not just DAe that is involved with A400M component production as the company works with several other local supplies on this project including Micromax, Daliff Precision Engineering, Aerosud, Cliff’s Way Engineering and Safomar. These subcontractors usually supply small, detailed parts and things like fasteners.

Dockrat made a point of saying that DAe and Aerosud were not at odds with one another and were more interested in working together. Within the tier 1 and OEM arena, DAe and Aerosud continue to present a united front with complementary capabilities and capacities. This approach is providing the South African Aerospace industry with an opportunity to present a comprehensive value proposition to the global supply chain, DAv said.

Dockrat said most of these companies were never heavily involved in aerospace manufacturing but DAe has developed them to be able to produce components and this is being done out of self-interest and also to meet government mandates. “In South Africa the supplier base is quite thin,” he noted. “Our suppliers are our partners. We can’t afford for them to fail.”

Apart from producing components, Denel Aerostructures supports the Rooivalk combat helicopter and Seeker unmanned aerial vehicles for Denel Aviation and Denel Dynamics respectively. In fact, DAe is supporting the structural engineering developments of the Rooivalk and is producing drop tanks for the rotorcraft. DAe plans to produce “quite a number towards the end of the year” for the helicopter. The company has helped to optimise weight through the redesign of various Seeker 400 components.

In spite of the global recession, the spike in oil prices and other factors affecting the global economy, Dockrat noted that the commercial aviation industry is growing at over 5% year on year and Denel Aerostructures is confident it can attract a portion of this business.