Paris Air Show

Doncasters’ success belies some underlying needs

 - June 12, 2007, 12:08 PM

Precision components and assemblies manufacturer Doncasters (Hall 2B Stand L11c) is reaping the rewards of several years’ hard work as it delivers engine-ready parts to OEMs and third-tier suppliers.

For example, it counts among its aerospace customers Boeing, General Electric, Hamilton Sundstrand, Honeywell, MTU, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce and Snecma. With group revenues exceeding $1 billion, Doncasters operates from 25 sites across Europe and North America.

However, success has been a two-edged sword because the company needs to invest in capital equipment to support the growing activity, according to group chief executive Eric Lewis. Since Doncasters decided at the beginning of the decade to become more than just a caster and forger of aerospace materials, the logic of the strategy was clear but orders did not begin to arrive until last year. Now, Lewis expects Doncasters to spend $80 million this year on capital equipment such as five-axes digitally controlled machine tools, new furnaces and a new ring mill, which is used in producing engine outer casings.

Recent new business includes a $52 million contract to manufacture low-pressure, directionally solidified, investment-cast blades for the Rolls-Royce Trent
800 engine that powers the Boeing 777.

The blades will be manufactured at the company’s Precision Casting facility at Bochum, Germany, which produces high-volume cast-superalloy gas turbine blade and vane airfoils. The contract follows a similar one for Trent 1000 blades. The Bochum plant’s revenues and production capacity have increased significantly since 2005, and Lewis predicts it will see an additional $20 million invested beyond an earlier commitment of $32 million.

Also, Doncasters Precision Forgings in Sheffield (UK) won a contract this year from Dunlop Aerospace Braking Systems to provide stainless-steel brake torque tubes for the Embraer Phenom 300 business jet, its first work on any of the Brazilian manufacturer’s aircraft. Under another Dunlop Aerospace contract, the group is producing titanium landing gear torque tubes for the Airbus A380 very large airliner.
Other aerospace business includes engine casings for Boeing 787 engines. Lewis also mentioned the company will be supplying single-crystal, cast blades for a major U.S. manufacturer.

Last August, the group saw a change of ownership, when Dubai International Capital acquired Doncasters from Royal Bank of Scotland (after a change of private-equity finance strategy at the latter). Lewis is encouraged by the new ownership, which he describes as “very hands-off,” with Doncasters free to grow by acquisition. As an example, he cited the recent purchase for almost $500 million of FastenTech, a U.S. company that produces gas turbine combustion components such as injectors and burner cans.

Doncasters plans to make its first formal appearance with a stand at the Dubai airshow in November and to be present at the 2008 Singapore airshow next February. Having watched the Middle East event grow from an embryonic exhibition, Doncasters now wants to develop its name in the region, said Lewis.

The company had to reduce its workforce from more than 6,000 to about 3,500 workers during the early 2000s’ economic recession, but it has been expanding recently with employee numbers back above the 5,000 mark. Lewis has the challenge of “managing growth to make sure we get the capital equipment and training that we need” to support new business. As well as investing in its industrial infrastructure, Doncasters is investing in people, having reintroduced an apprenticeship program, as well as starting a program to hire university graduates.

Beyond aerospace, the Doncasters group is involved in manufacturing precision components and assemblies for industrial gas turbines, specialist automotive, medical orthopedic and petrochemical markets. Its products include super alloys, gas turbine airfoils, exhausts, combustion and structural components, casings, rings, aerostructures and airframe components, turbocharger impellers and wheels, high-stress components for high-performance auto engines, medical orthopedic implants and instruments and petrochemical furnace tubing.