Quebec’s Aerospace Cluster Seeks More Tier 1 Integrators

 - May 3, 2016, 10:00 AM

Tasked with “mobilizing” and building consensus among companies in the Quebec Aerospace cluster, trade group Aero Montreal now sees a gap in the supply chain base of the province, largely in the aerostructures realm. Aero Montreal president Suzanne Benoit told AIN that although her group’s interest in drawing foreign companies to Quebec involve “indirect” efforts in conjunction with government agency Investissement Quebec and the public-private economic development partnership Montreal International, it plays a key role in identifying where in the supply chain the most pressing needs exist.

“We don’t want to bring companies that will present more competition to our existing ones, so we want to optimize the attraction of the companies,” said Benoit. “[Investissement Quebec and Montreal International] have to be aware, because they’re not sector specialists. So really our role is to make sure these people are well aligned with the needs of our industry.”

The Quebec aerospace cluster has attracted such aerostructures specialists as Airbus subsidiary Stelia Aerospace, which builds part of the fuselages for the Bombardier Global 7000 and 8000 business jets, and Belgium’s Sonaca, which makes wing panels and stringers. But the province needs more, said Benoit, particularly to supply tails, floors and doors. Other product categories in which Quebec needs expertise include flight control systems, power and distribution electric systems, hydraulic systems, fuels systems and air management systems. “We have many SMEs (small and medium-size enterprises) but we need more integrators,” said Benoit.

In fact, one of the strengths of Quebec—the world’s third-largest aerospace cluster—lies in its base of some 185 SMEs, and Aero Montreal has played a key role in developing the ability of those companies to effectively serve the world’s OEMs. Since 2011, the group has enrolled 47 SMEs in its MACH Initiative program, developed specifically to help SMEs better identify the needs and requirements of prime contractors and integrators, as well as to understand their industrial strategies.

Under the Mach Initiative, which Benoit described as a supplier development program, Aero Montreal developed an audit of 800 questions that measure about 15 processes related to both operations and strategy. About a month later, the MACH committee receives a report and presents it to the participating SME and an OEM client who volunteers as one of the program’s 28 project mentors. The report essentially grades the supplier on a scale of one to five.

Once the committee ranks the SME, it gets a year to participate in projects designed to help it improve on whatever processes in which it might have shown deficiencies with the help of its mentor.

“So during that year they’ll do two or three projects, and those projects will be financed by the government,” said Benoit. “We did about 465 projects up to now in the last four years.”  

Aero Montreal recently awarded its first Mach 5—the highest level--to Alcoa Titanium and Engineered Products (ATEP). That company has, in effect, graduated from the program and now serves as a mentor itself.

In the next generation of Mach, called Mach Fab 4.0, Aero Montreal invites the strongest companies in the program, rated from Mach 3 and up, to participate in a new program to improve manufacturing capability.

“They will get the financial support to really digitalize their shops,” both from the public and private sectors, said Benoit. The Quebec Ministry of Finance has allocated another C$70 million in its 2016/17 fiscal budget for a five-year aerospace strategy fund that now totals C$250 million. Benoit said she would know how much of that funding will go toward Mach Fab 4.0 when the government publishes its aerospace strategy within the next two weeks.