Farnborough Air Show

More acquisitions by Meggitt boost sensors, wheels, brakes

 - July 7, 2008, 6:29 AM

Just over a year after completing its biggest acquisition to date, Meggitt group has, according to chief executive Terry Twigger, made significant strides in its ongoing goal of achieving meaningful synergies between a diverse product range spread among its three core divisions: sensing systems, aerospace equipment and defense systems. The UK-based group bought K&F Industries for $1.8 billion right after the 2007 Paris Air Show, with the most visible impact being its ascent from number five to number two in the aircraft brakes market. The deal has also boosted Meggitt’s presence in the defense sector with the addition of specialized technology such as flexible, bullet-proof fuel bladders.

The addition of K&F has also significantly boosted Meggitt’s manufacturing presence in the low-cost dollar-zone of the U.S. and neighboring Mexico. In the group’s 2007 financial results, the takeover accounted for about one third of the 31-percent increase in revenues to £878.2 million ($1.7 billion). At the same time, Meggitt is increasingly sourcing materials and components from Asian suppliers, including sensor packages made at its own factory in China.

Meggitt (Hall 3 Stand C8) is continuing its push to extend its leading position in creating sophisticated sensors for harsh environments such as aircraft engines. “We want to further expand the capability of our sensors, getting them closer and closer to the turbine, for which they need to be even more resistant to temperature fluctuations,” explained Twigger. The company did enhance this capability in January 2008 with its acquisition of Ferroperm, a Denmark-based specialist in advanced piezo-electric ceramic materials that are needed for sensors to perform in harsh environments.

One key sensing goal that Meggitt wants to fully master is the ability to monitor continuously the gap between an engine’s blades and its casing.

The aim is to have a microwave-based control system that can maintain an optimum gap so as to avoid fluctuations in the engine’s performance. In the current climate of soaring fuel prices and heightened demands to reduce emissions, operators are seeking every incremental improvement they can achieve in engine performance, making the role of sensors and control systems more critical.

Another aspect of Meggitt’s fuel-saving initiative is its application of electro-thermal ice protection systems as an alternative to less-efficient devices using engine bleed air. The company has developed control algorithms that tailor integrated anti-ice and de-icing systems to actual flight conditions, concentrating only the actual amount of thermal energy required directly onto areas vulnerable to ice, thus optimizing the aircraft’s energy consumption for this function.

This year’s Farnborough show sees the full debut of the new Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems division formed with the merger of K&F Industries’ Aircraft Braking Systems Corp. (ABSC), based in Akron, Ohio, and the Meggitt subsidiary Dunlop Aerospace Braking Systems in Coventry, UK. As part of a wider effort to rationalize its aftermarket operations around the world, Meggitt has closed ABSC’s repair and overhaul facility in Slough, UK, combining it with the Dunlop operation in Coventry.
Similarly, on the other side of the Atlantic, Meggitt is likely to close Dunlop’s U.S. repair base and merge it with the ABSC facility in Akron. The group has already made significant savings by closing K&F’s corporate headquarters in the U.S., with all operations essentially being run from Meggitt’s group offices near Bournemouth in the south of England.

In May, Gulfstream Aerospace selected the company to provide wheels and brakes for its new G650 business jet. To help Gulfstream achieve its ambitious range and speed targets for the new large-cabin aircraft, Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems is developing new wheels and compact carbon brakes that optimize for the minimum weight and flight envelope. The lightweight aluminum main wheels and brakes will feature the company’s latest carbon composite “heatsink” material and an anti-oxidant coating, which will also provide long life and guaranteed operating costs.
Meggitt’s involvement with the G650 also includes the development of an “intelligent” brake-by-wire control system, which features high-performance braking capability and patented deceleration feedback to provide smooth and predictable braking, the company said. The system also provides brake temperature information to the avionics system for cockpit display. Gulfstream also has selected Meggitt to integrate the aircraft’s tire pressure monitoring system.

Meggitt is also a leading supplier for the new BR725 engine that Rolls-Royce is developing for the G650. In addition to an engine sensing and ignition package, the group’s Aerospace Systems division is providing pneumatic valves and its Safety Systems unit is to supply a fire detector for the auxiliary power unit.

This year’s Farnborough show  marks the debut of the new Meggitt Polymer Solutions business, which incorporates seal-making operations in Loughborough, UK, and McMinnville, Oregon. Meggitt, which has long been an acknowledged expert in fire-proof seals, is launching a patented smart material that would make these seals 20 percent lighter. According to the company, this will have a significant impact in reducing the half metric ton that an average airliner currently carries to connect and protect various systems.

On the defense side of Meggitt’s business, it has sold about 50 of its new GT400 high-performance glide target since it was introduced at last year’s Paris Air Show. The target is intended to bridge the gap between towed and free-flying jet-powered drones and flies sufficiently fast to challenge ground- or airborne-weapons systems operators in training scenarios. The new unit has been successfully engaged by the AIM-120, AMRAAM, SM-1 and ASTER missiles, and is being prepared for use with the Hawk surface-to-air weapon.

Meanwhile, the Engineered Fabrics Corp. division of K&F Industries has started using its bullet-proof urethane technology to seal “wet” wings and other metal or composite cavities that provide fuel storage on aircraft. The new EFC 100 product is a spray variant of the existing technology with a highly flexible and durable lining that prevents leaks  from forming. EFC’s fuel bladders temporarily seal themselves within two minutes of being punctured by 50-caliber munitions, allowing air crew time to land safely.

Pressed on whether suppliers like Meggitt will soon feel the chill of weakening demand in the air transport sector, Twigger insisted that this need not be inevitable. He pointed to OEM order backlogs spanning three to six years and added that Meggitt still looks forward to more new system selections from programs such as the Airbus A350XWB, as well as from the thriving regional airliner and business aircraft sectors.
In fact, on June 24, Airbus awarded Meggitt Safety Systems a contract to design, develop, manufacture and support the fire protection system for the A350.