July 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 3 
Main Feature

Hands across the water

Boeing has ties in Europe that span more than six decades. Here's a look at three examples of how Boeing works with European firms that have unique and valuable technologies to help maintain the company's competitiveness in the global marketplace


European Union flagAs a global enterprise with a focus on large-scale systems integration, it's imperative that Boeing align itself with strong industry suppliers and partners. Aerospace corporations that offer the expertise and technology Boeing needs are located around the globe-and many of the company's key relationships have been forged in Europe.

The continent is home to not only this month's Farnborough Air Show, which takes place every other year in the United Kingdom, but also many Boeing customers, some of whom have ties to the company that span more than six decades. By working with European firms that possess unique and valuable technologies, Boeing keeps itself competitive in the global marketplace. This two-way partnership has paid dividends for both sides over the years in ways that can't be measured solely in terms of platforms built, parts provided and currency exchanged.

"Certainly, being a partner with Boeing carries significance and recognition worldwide,” said Gene Cunningham, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems’ regional director for Business Development in Europe. “Someone who works with us on one program has greater opportunity to work with us on future programs because they are already known by our teams. If they’re true partners, they’re helping us shape what the future looks like."

That's certainly the case with the Boeing 7E7 Program, which "is taking the next step forward on the Boeing goals of global leadership and global partnering," said Walt Gillette, 7E7 vice president of Engineering, Manufacturing and Partner Alignment. The program operates a Partner Council composed of the 12 current partners, with meetings that are held at various Boeing and team member facilities around the world.

"It's important that the Partner Council members go to each other's place of work together. That's part of developing a strong relationship," said Gillette, who in 1997 led Boeing's Airplane Creation Process Strategy team, designed to reduce the time and costs of bringing new airplanes to market. About seven of the 7E7's major partners are European, he said.

And because these companies are investing technologies and financial resources in the 7E7, Gillette said, they have a vested interest in its success. "Collectively within Boeing, we know more about airplane creation than anyone else," he said. "However, no matter how smart we are, there are other smart airplane creation people in the world that can add to our knowledge. There's a lot of intellectual knowledge Boeing can benefit from by partnering."

More than 300 European companies in 22 countries serve as Boeing suppliers and partners. But a small number of these-such as Italy's Finmeccanica and the United Kingdom's BAE Systems, with whom Boeing has signed far-reaching Memorandums of Understanding-are called strategic partners.

"Those are arrangements where at a very senior level we have agreed to discuss the future interests of both companies," Cunningham said. Rather than talking about specific programs, the firms have "senior executive endorsement to talk at all levels across the companies to try and find synergies for creating a positive business future."

He uses the 767 Tanker Transport, the first of which is currently being built for the Italian Air Force and is scheduled to be operational in 2006, as an outgrowth of such a partnership. Finmeccanica is a partner in the aircraft’s development and production. Up to 50 of the company’s engineers have been working with Boeing counterparts in Wichita, Kan., and the Puget Sound region of Washington state.

Besides the technical expertise that Boeing and its suppliers and partners share, there's the more intangible interchange that strengthens both sides.

"You gain a cultural understanding and a root that's not just based on a single business opportunity," Cunningham said. "You bring back, quite frankly, long-term relationships that endure. . There's huge value in collaborative programs because they make you think differently."

With this month's focus on Farnborough, Boeing Frontiers shines a spotlight on three of the company's key European alliances: RUAG Aerospace in Switzerland; Umbra Cuscinetti in Italy; and Smiths Aerospace in the United Kingdom.


The Emmen, Switzerland-based RUAG Aerospace found itself in some pretty elite company this spring, as it was one of 13 companies honored in March with a Boeing 2003 Supplier of the Year award. Selected from among 10,900 suppliers worldwide and approved through an exhaustive review process, RUAG was recognized in the Aerospace Support category.

Known as a leading supplier and integrator of systems and components for commercial and military aircraft, as well as for aircraft maintenance and upgrades, RUAG is the main source for Boeing F/A-18C/D spares, wedges and related parts used at the Structural Repair Facility in Mesa, Ariz. These ailerons-hinged flaps attached to the trailing edge of an aircraft's wing used to help the vehicle turn or remain level-and other parts have earned a perfect quality rating thanks to RUAG's exacting quality system.

a full-scale fatigue test on Swiss F/A-18Ds (left) and conduct maintenance, repair and upgrade work on F/A-18C/D (right)The company joined forces with McDonnell Douglas in the early 1990s, when RUAG's largest customer, the Swiss Armed Forces, began acquiring F/A-18 aircraft. The Swiss Air Force initially bought 34 C- and D-model Hornets under contract, with the final assembly of 32 of these completed in Switzerland in RUAG's main Emmen facility. Its work expanded to include the MD-80, MD-90 and Boeing 717, for which it provides elevators and parts of the horizontal tail's leading edges.

Being named a Supplier of the Year is "quite a big deal for us," said Beat Brunner, RUAG executive assistant to the CEO. "Another important factor and criteria that was looked at was the ability of ours to deal with rapidly changing environments." The spares and repair business can be an unpredictable one, Brunner said, because of variances in the numbers of parts and changes in the parts themselves.

That's why RUAG so quickly embraced Boeing's Lean manufacturing processes. A Boeing team visited RUAG's main facility two years ago in order to help the Swiss company streamline and improve its processes. "We had a need to do something about our costs," said Brunner, a mechanical engineer and specialist in lightweight structures, tool machines and production technology. "The 717 elevator and F/A-18 aileron are both hand-labor intense. We started first in the assembly area [with] Lean initiatives."

Over the past few years, Brunner said, RUAG heavily invested in upgrading its machine shop and decided to outsource some processes. The work paid off, as RUAG's commitment to long-term pricing agreements for customers like Boeing was cited as a factor influencing its Supplier of the Year award.

As do Boeing's other European suppliers, RUAG has embraced the opportunities that globalization presents for the firm-and the nation. "Now, the Swiss government wants long-term participation with Swiss aerospace industry in international aerospace work," said Brunner, whose firm also supplies Airbus, Northrop Grumman and General Electric, among others. And RUAG has accepted the challenge, seeking to expand its aerostructures footprint. "We have a strategy to develop," Brunner said, "and that strategy is not just to produce parts, but to develop new products."


The products manufactured at Umbra Cuscinetti play critical roles in keeping Boeing's commercial airplanes flying safely for years. This aerospace company produces precision ballscrews used on flaps and stabilizers of 747, 737 Next-Generation and 777 airplanes. Located in the heart of Italy in the Umbria region, the company has been a supplier since 1987 for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, its largest customer.

With a new 280,000-square-foot facility housed in the city of Foligno, Umbra Cuscinetti is well-known on the European continent as a primary subcontractor of aerospace equipment. Priding itself on innovative use of materials, Umbra Cuscinetti CEO and President Valter Baldaccini said his firm introduced stainless steel ballscrews to the 777 production process.

"We got some ballscrews back after five years in service, and they were like brand new," Baldaccini said. "We were the first in the world to do that. And Boeing used them the first time in the 777."

The Italian company purchased Everett, Wash.-based Northwest Gear more than five years ago "to better support our major customer in the States," Baldaccini said. The renamed company has rack-and-pinion technology and manufacturing among its core competencies.

"We in this facility in Everett make different products than we make in Italy," he said of the plant, located about a mile from its largest customer. "Of course we support Boeing in a good way. We make a daily delivery to Boeing, like in the car industry."

Baldaccini understands and embraces his business's global nature, even from his company's base in a pastoral region of Italy. Boeing represents 10 percent of Umbra's sales from its Italian base, but 85 percent of its U.S.-based revenues.

"The aerospace industry is a global industry," he said, "and the trade cannot be a one-way street. That's why it's important for Boeing to have a company like Umbra, because they always choose the best companies [to work with], wherever they are."

Its recently expanded Foligno facility was built to take advantage of the latest manufacturing advances, Baldaccini said. "This is a clear sign of Umbra's willingness to undertake the challenge," he said. The layout of the new plant has been designed on the Lean manufacturing concept and streamlining process. One of the keys to Umbra's success is the flexibility of its personnel in aligning with demanding markets and companies like Boeing, he added.

In the last five years the company has invested 13 percent of its total annual sales in research and development and equipment upgrades, Baldaccini said. This constant innovation and improvement is all designed "to find the best solution for our customers. This is why we can offer Boeing things not found in other parts of the world."


Keith Tingley checks the correct and complete final assembly of an Electrical Power Management PanelAlthough Smiths Aerospace is the largest European-based aerospace equipment company, its businesses and sales revenues are split nearly evenly between Europe and North America. And the work this London-based firm does for Boeing benefits both Commercial Airplanes and Integrated Defense Systems.

In fact, Boeing consistently is one of Smiths' largest customers, as the company's technical expertise touches "virtually every airplane Boeing makes in some way," said Mike Grady, vice president of Civil & Military Air Transport for the Smiths Aerospace operation based in Grand Rapids, Mich. The company "runs the gamut from being a supplier of bits and pieces to a partnership role in programs like the 767 Tanker Transport. . Our futures are mutually joined together on some programs." Smiths provides flight management systems, landing gear actuation and hydraulic systems, flight controls, electronics, fuel management systems, primary and secondary power distribution, avionics systems, and airframe structural components for Boeing commercial and military aircraft.

In February, Smiths was named to the 7E7 Dreamliner team of major partners, as the company will provide the airplane's common core system, an integrated avionics platform that's key to the 7E7's open-systems architecture. Grady said the company spent five years to develop the technology for which it spent five months doing verification and validation exercises. Applied initially to the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program and Italian 767 Tanker Transport, this expertise will shift to the 7E7.

Last month, the partnership with Smiths was expanded to provide the 7E7's landing gear actuation, including control systems, and the aircraft's high lift actuation system.

"Unless you bring 85 to 95 percent of the answers to a competition, you won't win it," Grady said about this "technology re-use." "Nowadays, you can't [meet] the cost targets if you can't prove what you have and what you're going to do for the company."

Specialists in both electronics and mechanical systems, the company also uses its expertise on the Boeing F-15, T-45 Goshawk jet trainer, and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet programs, on which significant amounts of work are done in the United Kingdom. (Grady said the company has a "special security agreement" that allows work on U.S. Department of Defense programs.)

Believers in the Boeing "working together" concept, Smiths Aerospace employees work alongside their Boeing colleagues in the Puget Sound region, St. Louis, Mesa, Ariz., and Wichita, and at Smiths' U.S. headquarters location in Grand Rapids.

Because of the close relationship between the two companies, Grady said, program spin-offs often make sense. For example, the unmanned aerial vehicle and unmanned combat aerial vehicle work Smiths is now doing results from its role as supplier of the 767 Tanker Transport's hose-and-drogue refueling system.

"We have some interesting, innovative ideas Boeing seems interested in," Grady said. "It was much more a relationship issue because Smiths was not traditionally in the refueling business. We adjusted a business that had refueling technologies.

"There's a lot of intellectual capital in the aerospace industry in Europe, and there's a lot of research being done. Being part of this thinking gives us new products and ideas we offer to our customers."


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