Industrial and technical capabilities remain critical growth and development enablers in South Africa.
As such, says Denel Saab Aerostructures CE Lana Kinley, the defence industry acts as a key contributor and incubator of these capabilities.
The recently restructured DSA), a strategic equity partnership between Denel and Saab, has added a new dimension to South Africa`s industrial capabilities: formalising its aerostructures industry and creating new business opportunities for the country, she adds.
Despite still facing the start-up challenges associated with any developing industry, DSA`s aerostructures capability has grown from merely producing small parts to one that is now fully industrialised, with the capacity to produce Wing-to-Fuselage fairings for the Airbus A400M Loadmaster transport among others.
“In developing these technological and advanced manufacturing capabilities at Denel Saab Aerostructures, South Africa will soon become a more significant player in the global aerostructures supply chain,” adds Kinley.
With DSA still a relative newcomer on the global aerostructures stage, it has found itself facing a number of significant challenges – many of which are industry specific.
“Long lead times from initiation to contract award for new business, high non-recurring inception costs that require financing, and complex supply chains have resulted in a steep learning curve for the business,” explains Kinley.
“Because these capabilities are of strategic value to both the local industry and the country going forward however, DSA has implemented a number of systems and processes, and invested in key infrastructure and equipment. This has placed the company on the requisite growth path for future strategic contributions to the global supply chain.”
DSA has started to make inroads into this supply chain, inheriting the A400M Wing-to-Fuselage Fairing and the AgustaWestland LUH 109 contracts in its embryonic stage as an industry supplier.
“While the onerous terms and conditions of these contracts have placed the business under significant pressure, we have used these as opportunities to restructure the company and gain the requisite experience needed to position ourselves as a reputable aerostructures supplier. The A400M contract for example has transformed DSA from a low volume, small part, metallic aerostructure supplier into a supplier of complex composite structures.
“In recognising our strategic role in the country as a technology enabler and the champion and developer of a ‘new` industry, we have extended the engineering competence within the company to its commercial and operational areas,” adds Kinley.
This has enabled DSA to not only double throughput, but also firmly entrench itself as part of the AgustaWestland supply chain among others.
Although the A400M Wing-to-Fuselage Fairing contract remains a challenge, with numerous A400M aircraft programme delays impacting significantly on DSA, the company has revised its plans – making it a medium-term project as opposed to a short-term one.
Despite this however, the company has not forgotten its most important asset in its efforts to return from operational and financial difficulty: significant employee initiatives are in place and beginning to show signs of success.
With the value of an aerostructures industry in the country definitively proved by a leading international strategy, organisation, technology and operations consultant firm and supported by Government, DSA`s recently implemented turnaround and growth strategy is sure to add more than a new dimension to the country`s aviation capabilities.
It will catalyse employment and broaden South African engineering competence, adding a new qualification to our country`s resume and catapulting our position on the global technology and manufacturing map, Kinley says.
Pic: The AgustaWestland A109 LUH assembluy line at DSA in January 2008.