Rockwell Collins starts afresh as nimbler, independent entity

 - May 21, 2008, 9:58 AM

Rockwell Collins last month began operating as a stand-alone company following its successful spin-off on June 29 from former parent Rockwell International, now renamed Rockwell Automation.

Greg Churchill, recently named vice president and general manager of business and regional systems at Rockwell Collins, said the avionics maker is in the process of deciding precisely how the company will move ahead now that it’s officially a separate company with headquarters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“We’re trying to draw synergies where we can find them within our commercial and government systems divisions,” said Churchill, adding that managers at the newly independent company are busily building a new organizational structure that will allow groups to work more effectively, while at the same time helping the company target cost savings.

In business aviation, Churchill’s chief concerns in the near term lie in working with Bombardier on the Continental program to integrate its Pro Line 21 avionics system and in seeing retrofit Pro Line 21 avionics programs through certification, he said.

The Continental is scheduled to fly before the end of the summer, while the retrofit Pro Line 21 Continuum system, already certified in the Gulfstream II, IIB and III and Challenger 600/601, is slated for introduction in a number of in-service business aircraft from Dassault, Cessna, Bombardier and Raytheon in the next two years. Churchill said more details of a number of these programs would be released soon, perhaps at the NBAA Convention next month.

Another major program in which Collins is now involved is with Raytheon Aircraft, which recently selected the Pro Line 21 avionics system for integration into the Hawker 800XP. Pro Line 21 for the Hawker 800XP includes four 8-in. by 10-in. high-resolution, liquid crystal adaptive flight displays. The primary flight and multifunction displays show all necessary flight information. As part of the new Hawker 800XP avionics package, Raytheon will also provide turbulence-detection weather radar, TCAS II and Honeywell’s EGPWS as standard features of the avionics suite.

Churchill also said Collins’ In-Flight Entertainment unit is developing a line of cabin information system products for business jets, more details of which will be revealed next month. He added that the new product line would include airborne Web access, but declined to discuss specifics.

Pride of Ownership

Following the company’s split from its former parent, Churchill said the mood within Rockwell Collins is enthusiastic.

“We feel a little bit of ownership now, that sort of pride,” said Churchill. “We have a leader who is understanding of the business and passionate about what he does. I think that will help us focus on our customers.”

Rockwell Collins CEO Clay Jones told Reuters following the spin-off that acquisitions and partnerships would continue to be a part of Rockwell Collins’ strategy for growth, but he had no comment on industry speculation that Collins was considering a large merger partner. When the spin-off was announced last year, analysts named Rockwell as a takeover target in the wake of the GE-Honeywell merger, but no suitor emerged. At the Paris Air Show in June, a London newspaper mentioned the UK’s Smiths Group as a possible merger partner, but the rumor turned out to be unfounded.

Instead, Jones said he believes Rockwell Collins will be successful as an independent company. “As a stand-alone company, Rockwell Collins has the critical mass and financial firepower to build on our track record of delivering consistent revenue and profitable growth,” Jones said. “In addition, we’ll continue to improve operational efficiencies” through continued development of the company’s so-called lean electronics philosophy.

It was Jones who spearheaded the initiative within Rockwell Collins to develop a lean electronics operating philosophy to identify and address business activities at all levels that absorb resources without adding value to products and services. The goal is to provide customers with quick access to products and services that meet their needs at prices that represent best value.

At the time lean electronics was implemented, Jones made what now seems a fairly accurate prediction: “There will be more change in Rockwell Collins in the next three years than there has been in the last 30 years,” he said. Of course, Jones’ pronouncement then had more to do with the company’s new “lean” manufacturing plant in Decorah, Iowa, than the developments that have occurred since the spin-off was announced eight months ago.