Abu Dhabi aerospace sector branching out into composite manufacturing

 

Just 10 years after announcing plans to build a world-leading aerospace industry, the government of Abu Dhabi has made major strides in expanding and developing the emirate’s portfolio of original equipment manufacturing (OEM) activities, most notably through Strata Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Mubadala Investment Company.

Consistent with the goals of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, OEM activities are set to play a much more prominent role in the aerospace industry, with Strata moving to sign three major deals in 2016 to manufacture parts for Boeing and Airbus. These agreements will bring the company closer to achieving profitability, paving the way for long-term development of a robust aerospace manufacturing cluster, and adding thousands of new non-oil jobs to the emirate’s economy. Further expansion of the company’s Al Ain facilities will bolster these efforts.

Mubadala

Created by the government of Abu Dhabi in 2002, Mubadala is a driver of economic diversification, investing in sectors such as defence, health care and tourism, among many others. Five years after its inception the company announced plans to develop a sustainable aerospace industry in Abu Dhabi, creating a division tasked to form international partnerships with leading aerospace players, with activities concentrated in the 25-sq-km Nibras Al Ain Aerospace Park.

Mubadala is increasingly seeking international partnerships to promote aerospace industry innovation, particularly in the composite industry. Some of these major international partners include Rolls-Royce, GE, Boeing and Airbus, all of which have supported Mubadala’s vision of shifting the industry towards OEM, adding to its mainstay maintenance, repair and overhaul segment.

Strata Takes Flight

One of the most important players in the development of a robust OEM segment is Strata, Mubadala’s composite aerostructures manufacturer. After Airbus and Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica (now Leonardo-Finmeccanica Aerostructures Division) committed to ordering work packages from Mubadala in 2008, including Airbus A330/340 flap track fairings, spoilers and A380 flap track fairings, Strata Manufacturing was officially established in 2009. In the same year the company signed an agreement to provide Airbus with A330/340 ailerons, as well as a contract to provide rudders and vertical fins for ATR 42/72 aircraft. It has since then rapidly expanded its activities.

Strata’s 31,500-sq-metre facility located at Nibras Al Ain Aerospace Park was completed in 2010, following which the company delivered its first shipment of A330/340 flap track fairings. In 2011 Strata welcomed the first cohort of graduates from its in-house Emirati Aerostructures Technician Training Programme, marking an important step towards its Emiratisation ambitions,and in the same year it signed an agreement at the Dubai Airshow to become a Tier-1 supplier to Boeing.

Strata’s 31,500-sq-metre facility located at Nibras Al Ain Aerospace Park was completed in 2010, following which the company delivered its first shipment of A330/340 flap track fairings. Activities ramped up in 2012, when Boeing and Mubadala announced that Strata would produce 777 and 787 empennage ribs and 787 vertical fins for the Boeing Dreamliner aircraft. The second and third sets of graduates finished the Emirati Aerostructures Technician Training Programme in the same year. A competitive bidding process also saw the company win an A350-800/900 flap support fairing contract from Société Anonyme Belge de Constructions Aé ronautiques later in 2012.

Emiratisation

In 2013 Strata reached an Emiratisation rate of 40% and signed a memorandum of understanding with the UAE University for Lockheed Martin to train Emirati technicians on a Lockheed Martin-delivered programme. Mubadala made further inroads with Boeing and Airbus in the same year, signing a long-term strategic commitment with the former, and securing a number of new commitments from the latter.

The first four fully assembled Airbus A330 ailerons, which were installed on an Etihad Airways aircraft, were delivered in 2013. Emiratisation rates improved further in 2014, hitting 45%, and the company delivered its first 777-300 expanded range empennage wings to Boeing, as well as its first load of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner vertical fin ribs. In 2015 the company signed a contract with SAAB to manufacture of Airbus A350-1000 flap support fairings at the Paris Airshow. The year ended with Etihad receiving its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner vertical fin ribs, with parts made by Strata.

Employment

In July 2016 the company announced it had been awarded two new contracts with Airbus to manufacture additional composite components and completed major assemblies. The deals are valued at a combined total of over $1bn, and will see Strata become a supplier of Airbus A320 horizontal tail planes and A350-900 inboard flaps in Abu Dhabi.

“An efficient supply chain has different components, including suppliers and subcontractors,” Habib Fekih, former Middle East and Africa president at Airbus, told OBG. “All are vital to our process and we always select locations that add value to our supply chains, either through improved costs or the addition of new technologies,” Fekih added.

Strata employs nearly 700 people, of whom 51% are Emirati, while over half of the team leaders are UAE women. Strata continued pursuing a growth strategy in 2016 and 2017, signing three new contracts with Boeing and Airbus, while announcing a new second facility at Nibras Al Ain Aerospace Park, called Strata 2.0. The facility is expected to be 60,000 sq metres, and construction is set to start in 2018, with the date of completion set for 2020. Strata 2.0 will feature a range of smart technology solutions and equipment to support Strata’s ambition to be one of the leading aerostructure companies globally. The facility will encompass a “Smart Factory Ecosystem” that will foster a new philosophy across the organisation.

Light Composite Innovation

Strata’s specialisation – light composite materials – is an excellent fit for Airbus: 53% of the A350-900 is built with light composite materials designed to help reduce fuel consumption and operating costs. A350 XWB wings are fitted with unique high-lift devices, which adapt wing shape during flight, to ensure maximum aerodynamic efficiency.

Announced at the UK’s Farnborough International Airshow, the 2016 deal will see Strata deploy state-of-the-art automation and high-rate production technology to meet Airbus’ quality standards, building and assembling components at its Al Ain facility. Strata also announced at the 2016 airshow a new joint venture (JV) with Belgium’s Solvay, a world leading chemical and advanced materials company, producing advanced composite materials for Boeing. Previously – in 2013 – the two companies reached an initial strategic partnership to supply up to $2.5bn in advanced components to Boeing’s aircraft manufacturing programmes.

The new deal will create an equally owned 50:50 JV to supply carbon fibre pre-impregnated ( prepreg) composite materials for Boeing’s 777X programme, with the new company to be operational by 2021 and located in Nibras Al Ain Aerospace Park. “The prepreg work being done by Strata’s recently announced partnership with Solvay Group is a fantastic value proposition, linking part manufacture with design,” Badr Al Olama, head of aerospace at Mubadala, told OBG.

Like Airbus, Boeing is continually increasing the composite content of its next-generation aircraft as the company moves to reduce weight, improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

Boeing will be the JV’s first client. Prepreg technology offers high performance at a lower weight than traditional metal structures.

Looking Forward

At the close of 2016 Strata manufactured 10 separate aerostructures components, including those for the Airbus A330, A380, A350-900 and A350-1000, ATR 42/72, as well as for the Boeing 777 and 787 jets. Another deal announced in January 2017 witnessed Siemens, Strata and Etihad develop the first 3D-printed part for aircraft interiors in the MENA region. The partnership between the companies aims to leverage 3D printing to assist airlines in improving their designs, including making complex parts on demand and manufacturing discontinued parts.

In 2016 revenues for Strata were Dh440m ($119.8m). In September 2016 Al Olama estimated the firm would generate an approximate Dh1bn ($272.3m) of revenues annually by 2020.

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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2017

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