SACC Brings New Factory Up To Speed

By Bradley Perrett
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

The plant, designed by Avic, has inherited civil work from the Shenyang Aircraft military plant. SACC makes emergency exit hatches and wing leading edges for the Airbus A320 family, the leading edge of the Boeing 787's fin, and Section 48 of the Boeing 737.

Yang stresses the considerable price and cost pressure SACC is facing, which his predecessor, Pang Zhen, mentioned publicly more than a year ago (AW&ST June 4, 2012, p. 78). The new company president cites the problem of the rising yuan. And yet one of SACC's programs, manufacturing for the Bombardier Q400, shows the clearest evidence one could expect of a supplier doing well: The customer has given it more work. Beginning with a 2006 contract to build the Q400's forward and aft fuselages and tail, Shenyang Aircraft and then SACC are now manufacturing the mid-fuselage and wiring harness and, since 2011, assembling the whole fuselage.

SACC would not mind building the Q400 wing, too, should that contract be offered, says Yang, even though wings are not one of its chosen specialities. Areas of focus include fuselages, engine pylons, cable harnesses and cabin doors, based partly on its experience, he says. The list seems to be evolving. Last year Pang listed tails, doors and pylons.

The biggest single contract is for CSeries manufacturing, though SACC declines to discuss the work, which it does on behalf of Shenyang Aircraft. The latter is supplying Bombardier with forward, center and rear fuselage sections, the tail, tail cone, wing-body fairing and center wingbox. Bombardier has temporarily shifted some of that work to its factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland. During a recent visit, the CSeries production line was off limits. Next for SACC is extensive manufacturing for the C919, building the rear fuselage, vertical tail and engine pylons.

The ramp-up in CSeries manufacturing is probably a key issue in building up production volumes for SACC because Q400 production is slow and the C919 program is slipping (AW&ST June 17, p. 96). Work on the C919 has probably not come to SACC automatically, but the company had special dispensation to bid for it. Before allocating contracts, Comac officials said the structure would be made in China, but Avic units would have to compete for them.

The C919 work fits SACC's ambitions to specialize, and Yang says he hopes SACC will be able to secure work within its chosen focus when Avic Aircraft allocates contracts for the structure of the MA700 (AW&ST May 27, p. 36).

In common with other major suppliers, SACC is gaining more than technical and communications skills. Its customers are also helping it with management processes, which are probably most important when it comes to labor costs, which have been rising by 10% a year in the Chinese aerospace industry.

“We are also reducing avoidable waste by skills training and improving the efficiency of each worker,” says Yang. Ultimately, no amount of reorganization and training can sustainably match the pace of Chinese labor rates, however. “It is too hard,” says Yang. “So for us to survive, apart from improving management, we must also expand our market.” He gave few clues as to where that expansion may be, but adds that SACC has been talking with Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier.

Separately, Xian Aircraft, the core of the Avic Aircraft operation, has signed a $78 million contract for tooling from Electroimpact, a U.S. supplier of big robotic tools. The equipment will be used for the C919 in making flaps, ailerons and parts of the wing.

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