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Maarten Durville

Managing Director

GKN Fokker Elmo India

1 Rating

INDIAN AEROSPACE MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY Critical thinking is key

Nov 22, 2022

Maarten Durville, Managing Director, GKN Fokker Elmo India

With a strong presence of leading aerospace companies and two manufacturing facilities across India, how important has the Indian market been for your business?

The Indian market is expanding rapidly. The decision to choose India as a manufacturing location was strongly influenced by the rising importance of the Indian market. The number of passengers and flights is increasing. Also, Indian carriers are expanding, as is the manufacturing infrastructure.

The Pune plant has set an excellent example of gender diversity. Can you share some recent success stories involving them?

The energy and strength of our female workforce are amazing. They absorb knowledge quickly and are always eager to learn. My proud moments are when auditors from institutions or customers come by and go to the production line. Without any guidance, young women can explain the most complex tasks and relate how they conform to quality standards.

Since the inauguration and start of production, we have grown quickly. Quite a few women have already moved into more senior positions such as Manufacturing Engineer or Process Specialist. The process specialist not only has to know the product and process inside and out, but she also has to understand lean manufacturing principles. Candidates for these positions were asked to present their ideas for production, and we were blown away by the quality and understanding. It will not be long before they will further move into management positions.

With India progressing rapidly in aircraft manufacturing, how are you strategizing your business operations?

GKN Aerospace now has a growing engineering unit in Bengaluru and a fast-growing factory in Pune. Important elements of our strategy are to follow customers and capitalise on the strengths and characteristics of the location. In that respect, there will be ample growth in the future to increase the size of operations and the maturity of the tasks that the units perform.

The global aircraft wire & cable market is projected to reach around $1.15 billion by 2028. How is the company‘s R&D unit working to provide a competitive edge in the industry?

Apart from the existing market segments, some exciting new segments are appearing in the market. Electrical planes in the urban air mobility segment are being developed by numerous companies. For the mid-range, hydrogen, often in combination with an electric engine, is a sought-after solution. The requirements for such high-power electricity transport require new wiring solutions. GKN Aerospace aims to be the most trusted and sustainable partner in the sky. Therefore, these developments are right up our alley and play to our strengths as a one-stop shop for wiring harness design and manufacturing.

When it comes to business development in India, what are the company‘s plans for expanding? What would be the top leadership suggestions you would like to give to the young Indian leaders of today?

After the inauguration in 2019, we have doubled our employee size each year. At the moment, we are adding about 25 new people per month and are about 400 people strong. Our output will double in 2 years and in 4 years again. GKN Aerospace invests about $10 million in the site in hardware. Even more significant is the investment in training and development. We have set up a dedicated aerospace training centre with independently certified trainers. All new employees are trained to become certified aerospace specialists, a process that takes several months.

A special characteristic of our company is that more than 90% of the workforce is female. The women are typically young, have little or no experience and are coming from all over Maharashtra. The choice for a predominantly female workforce comes on the one hand from the fit between their strengths and the traits of our production, and it also fits our desire to improve the position of women. And recently we started to employ women with a physical challenge who are typically even more disadvantaged wrt the labour market. They are doing a great job and fit right in. The first product we shipped was a wire harness for Collins Aerospace which is part of the air management system of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In the meantime, we are producing for Airbus and Boeing as well. So if your light switches on properly when you travel in a Boeing 737 or you see the wing lights in the Airbus 320, we took care of that.

The expansion to Asia is an important part of GKN Aerospace’s long-term growth strategy and global operating model. The aerospace market is a global market, we compete with sites all over the world and export 100% of our production. When our sister factory in China was running out of space we did not just move it to a bigger site. Instead, alternative locations for expansion were investigated. Locations in North America, Europa, Africa and Asia were reviewed and ranked. The availability of workforce, abundance of talent, and growing aerospace footprint were all important factors to choose India over other options.

In the global picture, the importance of Indian aerospace ecosystem is rising. The airline companies from India are growing rapidly again after the pandemic. They continue to do so in the future, as the number of people who can afford air travel is on the rise as is the Indian economy. The pandemic will be just a blip in the overall long term upsurge. As a result, the market becomes more interesting for all market big players be it the likes of Airbus and Boeing or be it for the smaller players. With the growth of the aerospace manufacturing ecosystem, in the future we can also add Indian suppliers to our supplier base.

Looking back, the decision to choose India as the location was the right one, and we just got started.

How is the production of electrical wiring interconnection systems contributing to making India a global manufacturing hub?

With most commercial planes being made in the US and Europe, most of the wiring harnesses produced are exported. Our factory in Pune is exporting 100% of its production. Producing wiring harnesses is a people-intensive business. A lot of people are trained in aerospace manufacturing, with all its special high-end requirements. With the growing pool of people that know the ins and outs of aerospace manufacturing, the Indian market will become even more attractive.

What would be the top leadership suggestions you would like to give the young Indian leaders of today?

Looking at young potential leaders, I often see a drive for a slightly fancier title and a quick salary increase driving career decisions instead of mastering a field of interest and accomplishing results in it. Looking back at your career, one will notice that it is not the speed of progression in the first years that makes the difference. It is about getting really good at what you do.

Also, critical thinking makes a difference in multinational corporations. Do not try to guess what your manager would like you to come up with. Rather, come up with a proposal after performing a good data-driven analysis and doing a sanity check. Always ensure that you can answer the questions you can expect from your manager.

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