Established in 1986 after the acquisition of Canadair from the Canadian Government, Bombardier Aerospace is the aeronautical division of Montreal-based transportation firm Bombardier Inc, with around 29,000 employees worldwide. After nearly 25 years in the industry, it has become the third largest civil aircraft manufacturer in the world and made its name producing high quality business and commercial aircraft. In the fiscal year ending 31st January 2010, Bombardier Aerospace turned sales of $9.4 billion with an order backlog of $16.7 billion. Though headquartered in Canada, its Northern Ireland operation based in Belfast has become core to the company’s business.
In 1989 Bombardier acquired Belfast-based Shorts Brothers, the word’s first aviation company. This led to a steady expansion of its operations in Northern Ireland; with five sites located around Belfast – two in Belfast itself, one in Newtownabbey, one in Dunmurry and one in Newtownards – it has become the region’s largest investor and an employer of approximately 5000 people, producing around ten per cent of Northern Ireland’s manufacturing exports.
Bombardier Belfast plays a major design and manufacturing role in all of Bombardier’s families of aircraft. The most important project being worked on currently at Belfast is the development of the advanced composite wings for Bombardier’s new CSeries commercial aircraft. The CSeries aircraft family was launched in 2008 at the Farnborough Air Show, and is due to enter service in 2013.
The CSeries is the only family of aircraft specifically designed for the 100 to 149-seat market and will therefore be filling a crucial gap in the market, ensuring its success. It has been designed with environmental efficiency and operational flexibility in mind, offering the lowest operating costs in its class. The CSeries aircraft will emit 20 per cent less CO2 and 50 per cent less NOx, fly four times quieter, and deliver dramatic energy savings – 20 per cent fuel burn advantage as well as 15 per cent improved cash operating costs versus current in-production aircraft of similar size.
Bombardier has already taken orders from Deutsche Lufthansa for 30 CS100s, Republic Airways for 40 CS300s, and Lease Corporation International Group for three CS100s and 17 CS300s. Options have also been placed on an additional 90 aircraft.
The £520 million investment in Belfast to allow it to produce the wings is the largest ever single investment in Northern Ireland, and it will take the operation’s capabilities to a completely new level. Bombardier Belfast has almost 40 years of experience in composites design and manufacturing, with a portfolio of 30 products including nacelles, flight control surfaces and landing gear doors. Bombardier has a team dedicated to research and development (R&D) that continues expanding its knowledge and evaluation of composite materials. With this reliable history, it is no surprise that Belfast became the location to develop the wings for Bombardier’s new commercial aircraft.
Belfast is manufacturing the primary structural components of the CSeries aircraft wing using its patented Resin Transfer Infusion (RTI) process. This process is different to the composite technologies used in most other aircraft programmes, although the basic materials are very similar.
Stephen Cowan, supply chain general manager at Bombardier Belfast, explains: “Most of today’s programmes use material which is supplied pre-impregnated with resin, which basically binds the fibres together to create the hard durable structure when it is cured under high temperature and pressure, usually in an autoclave. However, with RTI, we use ‘dry’ fabrics to create the structure and then the resin is injected into the structure after it is placed in the autoclave.”
This process benefits Bombardier, by reducing materials usage and cycle times, and its clients, by maximising the durability of the wing whilst making it significantly lighter than a conventional metal counterpart.
As part of the complex R&D programme for the wing, a full-scale, three-quarter span pre-production demonstrator wing was assembled, which has been undergoing rigorous testing. The testing involved the use of hydraulic rigs to bend and twist the wing structure, replicating up to 150 per cent of the most severe forces the wing is likely to experience in service. Results so far have been impressive, but further testing will be carried out before the wing design is finalised, so the company can be absolutely confident about its structure and its maintainability.
“The data we are gathering from all our tests will help us to optimise the final production design for weight and performance. This successful demonstrator test confirms that our RTI process is an excellent means by which to manufacture the large primary structural elements of the composite wing torque box for the CSeries aircraft,” said Stephen.
The wing programme has a 20-year lifespan and will engage hundreds of personnel in Belfast. Several hundred engineers and other Bombardier support staff are involved in the wing’s R&D programme, and when peak production is reached, around 800 employees will be involved.
A purpose-built, 600,000 square feet factory is being constructed for the manufacture and assembly of the wings. The first phase of this building will be completed during autumn 2010, with production set to get under way in early 2011. The design and layout of the factory maximises production efficiency and minimises its environmental impact. Low-energy techniques will be implemented into its mechanical and electrical systems, whilst waste segregation and recycling will be a priority in its waste management programmes.
The huge investment in the CSeries programme has been carried out amidst what has been one of worst global recessions. Stephen discusses how this is affecting Bombardier: “This year, Bombardier expects to deliver around 15 per cent fewer business jets and 20 per cent fewer commercial aircraft. Revenues, therefore, are expected to be lower, particularly at a time when we must continue to invest in our future. However there were positive signs at the Farnborough Air Show where Bombardier announced orders of some $1 billion for business and regional aircraft.”
The Belfast operation has remained a key contributor to the local and national economy, and has around 900 approved suppliers in Europe. Working in close collaboration with its suppliers is part of the Bombardier culture. “Aerospace companies need to transform themselves into leaner, more competitive and more innovative enterprises with strong global supply chain partnership and management capabilities,” says Stephen. “We have been working with key partners in an integration approach since the early 1990s, defining performance and interfaces as part of our system requirements, rather than just defining components specifications. We work closely with our supply base at every stage of the aircraft life cycle – through the development, production and after market service.
“This integrated approach is evident in the new CSeries aircraft programme, and the quality and efficiency of our relationship with our key partners will ensure the success of the programme. In fact, we have our partners on-site working closely with us to improve timeliness and accuracy of information.”
Bombardier is actively engaged in helping its suppliers become more competitive and move up the value chain. One of the ways it is doing this with UK companies is through the UK’s SC21 (Supply Chains for the 21st Century) initiative. “SC21 has created a standard set of tools, and enables the primes to have a consistent view of the supply base. By companies working together on a single supplier development programme, we can create a more open, transparent relationship with the supply chain. We at Bombardier are committed to improving the competitiveness of our suppliers and positioning them for the rapidly changing industry, where primes will continually change their business model,” he comments.
In addition to its significant economic role in Northern Ireland, Bombardier Belfast has a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility. Through the Bombardier (Northern Ireland) Foundation, it is investing in the education of young people in science and technology, improving the environment, providing employment and learning opportunities for people in areas of disadvantage, and encouraging its employees to contribute something back to their communities.
The company has close links with all levels of education within Northern Ireland, and its innovative Flight Experience schools’ programme has won several awards. It also adopts an environmentally-focused approach to its product design and manufacturing processes. Thanks to a comprehensive energy conservation programme and a carbon reduction programme, it has made significant improvements in its environmental footprint over the last few years. One of the company’s greatest impacts on the local community is its leadership in a major employability initiative aimed at getting employment for long-term unemployed people from disadvantaged areas of Belfast. As part of this, Bombardier Belfast sponsors and leads the west Belfast/Greater Shankill Employers’ Forum, in which more than 70 employers are now involved. To date, over 850 long-term unemployed people have gained employment as a result of the Forum’s work in this most deprived area of Northern Ireland.
Bombardier Belfast continues to build upon its knowledge and experience gained in European and UK R&D programmes, all of which are aimed at producing cleaner, more efficient and environmentally Belfastfriendly aircraft. Recent programmes include the UK’s Environmentally Friendly Engine and Next Generation Composite Wing programmes, and European Framework programmes such as ALCAS (Advanced Low Cost Aircraft Structures) and VITAL (Environmentally Friendly Engine). These collaborative programmes are helping to further develop its product and manufacturing technologies and its people’s skills.
Though the aviation industry traditionally lags behind in economic recovery, Bombardier remains confident about the long-term future. Stephen concludes: “Whilst we still have many challenges, the market fundamentals are strong in the long term. Bombardier is cautiously optimistic and we expect a positive future for an aviation industry focused on long-term economic growth. Our aim is to strengthen our market leadership position by continuing to invest in current and future commercial and business aircraft products.”
Bombardier Aerospace Belfast