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Going for growth

LORD is expanding into the Americas with its repair services, but is looking into other avenues as well

In June 2016, LORD Corporation announced it had completed the acquisition of Fly-by-Wire Systems France (FbW) from SKF. Based in Saint-Vallier, some 320km north-east of Toulouse, the company produces cockpit controls/inceptors (throttle control unit, flap lever control unit, speed brake control unit, nose wheel steering control unit, sidestick, electrical pedals); sensors (throttle control unit, force transducer unit, transducer unit); and passive or semi-active dampers (cyclic pitch control damper, yaw damper, pedal damper friction unit). These are used as part of fly-by-wire systems for all current production Airbus types and Bombardier C Series, and for business jets from Bombardier, Dassault and Embraer. It also produces mechanical systems for the Boeing 757 and 767 and the Bombardier Q400 turboprop. There is also a small amount of helicopter business.


A year later, the company is expanding into the MRO market in the Americas with the opening of a repair shop at an existing LORD facility in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, which manufactures rubber-to-metal components; and assembles, tests, repairs and overhauls electromechanical parts for the industrial, aerospace, and oil and gas markets. 


Frédéric Ponchon, LORD Fly-by-Wire Sales Director, explains that there are several reasons behind this decision. The first is that MRO represents insufficient business volume as the company looked only to repair its own products. However, there has been a clear trend towards the supply of much more integrated systems to aircraft production lines. For example, customers would previously remove a failed sensor box from an Airbus sidestick control and return it for repair. Now, the entire unit tends to arrive. This opens up opportunities to expand the scope of repairs that can be carried out in-house, instead of working with external repair stations, and is part of a strategy to grow its market share. 


Of course, he says, this adds considerable complexity, particularly the need to invest in automatic test equipment and training, which is why the new facility started with just three part numbers this summer, but will expand to support more than 50 part numbers in 2019.


Most of the work is likely to be for Airbus aircraft, as it is in the Saint-Vallier facility. This is simply because the company has been involved with the OEM since the mid-1980s, its equipment having been fitted to every subsequent model since the A320. As a result, a significant amount of new production is dedicated to Airbus, and this is reflected in the MRO market.


Ponchon comments that Airbus has been conservative and consistent, maximising commonality among models, as illustrated by the speed brake lever on the A380 that is essentially the same as on the A320. From LORD’s point of view, of course, this simplifies the number of model variants and necessary repair schemes. Combined with the long experience of repairs, beginning in 1984, this enables the company to offer a turnaround of just a few weeks. Once LORD’s new Cambridge Springs facility is up to speed, shipment times for customers in the Americas should reduce an average return from either facility from 40 to approximately 15 days. Another benefit from having a US-based facility is that it can be used by European airlines with FAA certification.


Some of the equipment has an unlimited life, and is being recovered from older aircraft being recycled. This produces another revenue opportunity as it is returned to the OEM for overhaul, repair and recertification before being put back on the market. However, Ponchon notes that the company also sees a lot of items that use PMA parts or have DER-approved repair schemes. Of course, they comply with the requirements of the LORD maintenance manual, but there is a reduction in the subsequent reliability, service life and residual value. Bringing these back to LORD, the OEM, will have benefits for operators.


Another key market for Airbus aircraft is Asia, so it is no surprise that the company is considering a repair facility in the region. In addition, the company has established a relationship with Satair, which is purchasing LORD FbW parts to stock on behalf of Airbus for AOG support services.


For the C Series, it is still early days, the aircraft having only entered service last year. No repairs have appeared as of yet but, as sole supplier, LORD FbW will be ready for this new market.

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