Sonora – The Most Important Cluster for Aero-Engine Components Manufacturing in Mexico
Engine component manufacturing for aerospace initiated in 1999 for the State of Sonora, Mexico. Since then aerospace activities have been steadily growing in the region thanks to unique conditions and the dedication of the Economic Development Council of Sonora. Today, the State is acknowledged as the most important cluster in the country for aero-engine components manufacturing. Sonora is well known, as well, for its precision machining. But its journey into aerospace manufacturing has only just started as the State is moving rapidly into the value chain and is seeking new segments of the industry.
Guillermo Padres, the Governor of the State, says that this is the right time to invest in Sonora. “Sonora,” he explained, “is the State with the highest growth rate on the northern border of Mexico and plays a leadership role in the economic development of the region.”
The Governor made this statement right after a financial analysis conducted by global bank group BBVA unveiled that the economic growth of the State reached a rate of 7.7%. This growth is signifi- cantly higher than the national average of 5.2%. “This is another proof that we are on the right track,” Governor Padres said.
The vision for the growth and deployment of the Aerospace Industry in Sonora is under the responsibility of the Economic Development Council of Sonora (EDCS). The council is an autonomous para-governmental organization aligned with the Ministry of Economy of the State. One of its central mandates is to attract foreign investment. Its decentralized structure provides the EDCS with the flexibility and tools necessary to respond to prospective investors in the process of finalizing their business decision. At the same time, the ECDS is accountable to the State Government for results. These conditions explain the high level of energy and singular focus of the organization in its activities.
One of the most notable successes of the EDCS in a joint effort with the Ministry of Economy in recent months was the signing with Rolls-Royce of a collaboration protocol in support of Rolls-Royce’s strategy to use Sonora as a strategic sourcing destination. This protocol, agreed upon during the recent Paris Airshow in June, allows for the development of Rolls-Royce’s suppliers in the State. And importantly, it provides Sonora access to new technologies leading to work on significantly more complex parts of Rolls-Royce engines. The alliance with Rolls-Royce is important in the sense that Sonora will be participating in Rolls- Royce’s latest engine platform, the Trent XWB. This is an engine with a very promising future as being the unique power plant for the Airbus A-350 XWB airplane family. This project alone will fuel much growth in Sonora for years to come.
One of the Rolls-Royce suppliers established in Sonora is the British firm Trac Precision Machining Limited. James Dickson is the General Manager of the Guaymas plant (Trac Mexico).
His factory manufactures turbine components for the aerospace and industrial gas turbine industries. Their operations have been very successful. “The company was up and running within six months from its announcement. The facility now has obtained all the necessary approvals and has an operational strategy to grow 10 fold.” says Dickson. Sargent Aerospace & Defense is also a significant participant of the aerospace community of Sonora. This U.S. Company headquartered in Tucson, Arizona has been strategically developing its Mexico operation as a platform for its long-term competitiveness.
Sargent designs and manufactures rings for the pistons, seals, alignment joints, bearings and hydraulic pistons for the entire aerospace industry and has focused, until now, its Guaymas operations to turbine engine components. Gilberto Hernandez, the General Manager of Sargent in Mexico, commented to MexicoNOW that his factory has made significant achievements during its 7-year presence in Sonora.
“We have found and developed a very qualified workforce,” he said, “lead by a group of young and ambitious leaders that face the challenges with excellent communication and productivity. In the year 2010, our Sonora operation was elected as the best factory of all Sargent facilities. We have also received a very significant award from United Technologies (UTC) as being a “UTC Gold Supplier”. We are the first aerospace company in Mexico to achieve this recognition.”
The latest participant to the Sonora aero-engine cluster is Bodycote, plc. , the world’s largest provider of thermal processing services, with 170 accredited facilities in 27 countries. MexicoNOW has talked with Matthew Alty, Bodycote’s Strategic Business Manager, in regards to his company operation in Empalme, Sonora.
According to Mr. Alty, the Empalme plant will soon provide state of the art vacuum heat treatment and vacuum brazing focused on aerospace and industrial gas turbine customers. Bodycote, he explained, has designed the plant to allow for future expansion and has allowed for the installation of additional processes in the Bodycote portfolio. These include features such as thermal spray and electron beam welding. The plant will be operational in August 2011 and will hold a range of external aerospace accreditations.”
Rolls-Royce, world’s second largest aero engine manufacturer, has found in Sonora a unique set of conditions that are also very appealing to numerous other aerospace companies and industrial sectors. Sonora is strategically located in the northwest of Mexico. It has privileged access to the U.S. west coast aerospace industry. This alone represents 35% of all aerospace activities in that country.
Proximity offers an obvious transportation cost savings. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Proximity provides a much larger benefit; it also means a higher level of operational integration between the various value chain participants. Most Sonoran aerospace plants have intense relationships with other value chain participants located north of the border.
This is significant because most raw materials and supplies originate from the U.S. and at times, some intermediate processes are outsourced to third-parties located across the border. Finally, most finished products get integrated into higher level assemblies abroad. This leads to numerous exchanges, well beyond just the physical movement of parts. Consequently, gaining efficiency in all of these interfaces has a direct impact in terms of cost, time and quality.
In this context, Sonora is home of highly capable shelter providers representing a unique resource for small and medium size companies (SMEs). Everyone must remember that the vast majority of aerospace suppliers composing the industry’s value chain are Tier-2 suppliers and the majorities are SMEs. Providing them practical solutions for deployment is definitely one of the keys to the State’s success.
A prerequisite to the success of Sonora in aerospace is its ability to provide and develop the talents needed by this demanding industry. On that front, the State is a proven choice while everyone will recognize that the road in regards to aerospace training is long and complex.
According to Sargent’s General Manager, Hernandez: “Definitely the labor force is the strength of the aerospace industry of Sonora, not only with the professionals dedicated to operations, but also for the engineers who are well prepared to face the challenges of this industry.” On the same matter, Dickson of Trac Mexico says: “Sonora has come a long way in understanding and supporting training and development needs for the aerospace industry. The training now available matches the skill requirements for such a complex industry.”
The strategic advantages of Sonora are drawing the attention of many aerostructure companies as well. For instance, Ducommun is doing the final assembly and painting of spoilers for the Boeing Next Generation 737 control surfaces in the segment of aerospace established so far in Mexico for a simple reason; it has the fundamental capability to build an airplane and thus is the most common denominator. It is no surprise that EDCS is actively working to develop its capability in that segment as well.
In the past, the aerostructure segment was significantly made-up of aluminum machining and sheet metal work. Today, the technological advancements have led to a much more complex landscape of materials and processes. This represents a signifi- cant opportunity for Sonora as these new technologies translate into new investments in support of tomorrow’s aircraft platforms.
The Daher-Socata investment in a composite facility in Nogales is a significant foray for the State in this area. The company operates state of the art equipment, including a high technology unit equipped with digital cutting machines, a 14,000 square foot clean room for hand molding lay-up and a 12ft. diameter by 40ft. long autoclave. It is the largest autoclave in this part of Mexico The growth of Sonora in aerospace does not limit itself to just seeking new investments. The organic growth of the established companies is also a fundamental contributor. The EDCS has part of its mission to become a stakeholder in the development of its established companies.
It is widely felt that contributing to the commercial success of resident companies is a guarantee of success for the State as a whole.
For instance, one form of on-going support to established companies is the creation of several new initiatives in the area of technical training. The EDCS is not alone in fostering the conditions of success; it has to be mentioned the many significant contributions from Shelter providers, other State departments, municipal governments, associations and education institutions. Sonora is a tightlyknit community, which in turn becomes a very significant asset for companies that decide to invest in their future there.
But when talking about the future, location and an enabling community does not really explain everything in regard to the success of Sonora, nor does it guarantee what might happen tomorrow. The State, through the EDCS, follows a very wellde fined roadmap in its economic development. A clear vision guides its actions. The plan is much larger than chasing after a particular company or attending a given promotional event.
The EDCS is an actor and a catalyst in the numerous matters of relevance to economic development. As one example, the EDCS played a significant role in the establishment of the new industrial park in Hermosillo; creating more infrastructure in support of future investors. Developing the fundamental pillars for industrialization will certainly warrant the State a better future.
This groundwork has been delivering positive results. Last May, FDI Magazine ranked Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, as one of the top ten “Latin America cities of the future.” This is a strong testimony to the favorable conditions and ability to attract investment. The port of Guaymas also ranked well among the small Latin American cities.
Commenting on the future, Governor Padres concludes with the following statement: “The year 2010 was very good and for this year (2011) we will keep investing in improving our productive infrastructure in order to be more competitive and more attractive for further investment in Sonora.
I am very optimistic that the year 2011 will be an even better year. However, we have to push and promote the entrepreneurs to invest in Sonora. As I said earlier, this is really the right time to invest in Sonora.”
In conclusion, Sonora will remain one of the large contenders for future aerospace investment in Mexico. The State has a well-established base of aerospace companies, definite strategic advantages, a clear vision, and features a proactive community. Sonora offers a unique value proposition.