Hamilton Sundstrand puts the charge into more electrics

Paris Air Show » 2007
June 14, 2007, 6:29 AM

By all indications, the era of the “more electric” airplane suits Hamilton Sundstrand and its president, Dave Hess. Supplier of the entire primary power generation and virtually all of the power distribution on the Boeing 787 airliner, the Windsor Locks, Connecticut-based division of United Technologies (UTC) expects to generate $15 billion in revenue over the life of that one program. Given its similarly large role in such programs as the Airbus A380, Embraer 170/190, Bombardier Global Express and the Joint Strike Fighter, the competition might excuse Hess for feeling comfortable referring to Hamilton Sundstrand as the industry’s leading systems integrator.

Hess need only point to the company’s new $50 million test laboratory in Rockford, Illinois, as a tangible example of the company’s commitment to not only the 787 program, but to the very concept of systems integration. Operating as a so-called “virtual workspace” via high-speed data-links with Boeing and other Hamilton Sundstrand facilities, the lab had completed more than 1,500 hours of integration testing as of March 15 and will likely have accumulated more than 5,000 hours before the 787’s scheduled first flight in August.

“The airframers don’t have anything like it and certainly none of our peers have anything like it,” said Hess. “I think it’s not only helping us support the 787 program–and I think the value proposition that it offered Boeing helped us win all the content that we won on the aircraft–but it’s really also a learning lab…We’re learning more and more about aircraft-level systems integration every day that we think we can leverage on the next new airplane program.”

The lab has also proved a “value proposition” to suppliers such as Smiths Aerospace, Rockwell Collins, ECE and Thales, with whose equipment Hamilton Sundstrand integrates its own systems at the lab. Using dynos that act as “dumb” engine loads, engineers simulate an engine start to drive starter generators that supply power to entire electric lab.

Hamilton Sundstrand components generate 1.5 megawatts of power for the 787’s systems, three times the amount the company contributed to the Boeing 767. In all, it supplies nine systems for the 787, including the first all-electric APU and six starter generators that distribute power across some 200 primary loads and 1,100 secondary, or lower power, loads. Other industry “firsts” include Hamilton Sundstrand’s electric starter generators, electrically driven air-conditioning and primary hydraulics, and a nitrogen generating system for rendering the fuel tanks inert.

“It’s an incredibly sophisticated system,” said Hess. “The design work involved with dynamically switching and controlling that many loads across an aircraft and being able to take care of different fault conditions and things of that sort, it’s a hard thing to do. And it’s really that lab that’s giving us the capability to develop that knowledge and that capability, which to some degree has enabled the more-electric airplane.”

Hamilton Sundstrand will provide nine systems for the 787, including the gearbox for the airplane’s Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines. All told, the contract promises a workshare value of $2.5 million per shipset. Of course, neither Hamilton Standard nor Sundstrand Aerospace alone could have assumed such a wide role absent their merger in 1999, by which time, according to Hess, Sundstrand had already taken on integration roles in the field of electrical systems.

“I give credit to Sundstrand for formulating the strategy and really working it, particularly in electric systems, kind of moving from initially generation to primary power distribution, first on the [Boeing] 717, and after that on airframes such as the Global Express and some other platforms,” said Hess.

In fact, per aircraft, the value of Hamilton Sundstrand’s contract for the A380–at roughly $2.6 million–actually exceeds that of the 787. However, based on Airbus’ sales projections, the total value for Hamilton Sundstrand equates to roughly $3 billion for the life of the program–roughly a fifth of what it expects to make from the 787.

Since the merger the company has watched its annual revenues rise from some $3 billion to $5 billion last year. First quarter 2007 figures showed a 13-percent rise in revenues, to $1.31 billion, and a 19-percent increase in profits, to $218 million. As of late April, Hess said he remained confident in company earnings guidance that predicted a $100 million increase in operating profits this year.

Last year’s acquisition of Sunbury, UK-based LED lighting supplier Page Aerospace adds a new dimension to Hamilton Sundstrand’s portfolio–and, perhaps more importantly–another step in the company’s progression “down the wires” from power generation to secondary components. The Page deal followed the 2005 acquisition of Kidde Aerospace, whose fire detection and suppression systems Hamilton Sundstrand integrates on the 787.

Hess said the company wouldn’t balk at the chance to reel in a bigger fish–particularly in the realm of cockpit electronics–but he cautioned that any such prize would probably come with a steep price, and under exceptional circumstances. “It’s kind of a natural space or logical next step for Hamilton to look at progressing more into the cockpit or try to get more into the avionics market,” he said. “We look hard at [acquisitions], but they tend to be opportunistic, and if it happens, great; if not, I think we’ve demonstrated to ourselves on 787 that we can win without it.”   

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