One of the most industrialised states in Mexico, Nuevo León is set to become a major player in the global aerospace industry because of its proximity to the US and its talented workforce.

The state is already home to one second-tier aerospace company, US-based MD Helicopters, which undertakes the sub-assembly of primary systems for aircraft. The state government is keen to attract an original equipment manufacturer – which designs and assembles aircraft – and other companies at the first-tier level, which assemble the primary systems of aircraft (such as hydraulics, pneumatics, landing gear and engines).

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Furthermore, Nuevo León is home to eight third-tier aerospace companies, including Frisa Aerospace and Tecmaq, which make machine components for aircraft and undertake the sub-assembly of secondary systems. There are also six companies at the fourth tier, which produce minor components for aircraft, and three companies that provide complementary services and make components for the sub-systems of aircraft.

Aiming higher

One of the state government’s major goals is to move up the supply chain in aerospace manufacturing and to create many more high-value-added jobs, as part of its drive to turn Monterrey into an ‘international city of knowledge’. The government is pursuing this objective by setting up an aerospace cluster and putting into practice the ‘triple helix’ concept, whereby it acts as a facilitator between industry and academia.

Frisa Aerospace has a plant in the Santa Catarina neighbourhood of Monterrey and its clients include principal turbine producer: GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce and Snecma. Frisa Aerospace has been producing rings for aircraft turbines since 2004 and also makes rings for gas turbines. It employs 200 people, including 50 engineers.

“The global aerospace industry has suffered a lot during the past two years,” says Juan de Dios Rodriguez, head of quality at Frisa Aerospace. “The demand for rings for aircraft turbines has been lower during the past 10 months; however, we have begun to see it pick up again during the second quarter. We have had to lay off very few people.

“Last year, we rebalanced our business slightly and made more rings for turbines for the energy sector. Some 65% of the turbines we produce are for aircraft, while the remaining 35% are for energy. We are optimistic about the rest of this year and we are installing new equipment for the aerospace sector so that we are well prepared for the new wave of demand when it comes.”

The UK-based testing company Exova has opened a laboratory in Monterrey and Frisa is helping it to develop the centre so that non-destructive and mechanical testing can take place there, rather than having to send parts to the US for testing. “This makes it much quicker and cheaper,” adds Mr Dios Rodriguez.

He says that Nuevo León has many advantages for the aerospace industry: it has a big pool of technical personnel available; it has a long history in the manufacturing sector, including automotive, steel, glass and cement; it is very close to the Texas border; and it has many technical schools and universities.

“Infrastructure is excellent as well,” adds Mr Dios Rodriguez. “The location is the key. Nuevo León is also close to the Mexican coast, so we are able to ship products to Europe very quickly. This is important, as it means we do not have to be just dependent on the US.”

Esteemed institutions

One of Nuevo León’s key advantages is the large number of esteemed technical universities and institutions it houses.

The state university, the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (UANL), is one of the most prestigious state universities in Mexico and has a total of 22 research centres. UANL’s highly regarded Faculty of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering – which has a total of 12,100 students at degree level – already has a degree course in aeronautical engineering and has set up a research centre in aerospace, the Centre for Aeronautical Engineering Research and Innovation (CIIIA), at Del Norte International Airport, a private airport 20 kilometres from the centre of Monterrey.

CIIIA – whose principal structure, laboratories and hangar bay are to be completed by December – aims to provide technological support for the aerospace and aeronautical industries of northern Mexico. It will promote projects of high value in the supply chain, develop advanced engineering solutions and carry out R&D in all areas of aerospace.

Furthermore, the city’s private university, Monterrey Tech, which is regarded as one of the best technical universities in the Americas, has 19 research centres and has set up the Centre for the Development of the Aerospace Industry in the State of Nuevo León. Monterrey Tech has supported the development of operations by aerospace companies such as Bombardier, Gulfstream, Honeywell and Johnson Controls and has students at Airbus and Boeing plants.

Monterrey Jet Center has been located at Del Norte International Airport since 1994 (it was originally established in 1988 at Monterrey International Airport under the name Aeroservicios Monterrey). It is the only aircraft repair station in Nuevo León that is authorised by the US Federal Aviation Administration and it has contracts to maintain all the aircraft of Continental and American Eagle throughout Mexico.

“Continental flies to 28 airports in Mexico,” says Ricardo Marcos Dieck, Monterrey Jet Center’s general-director. “We are on call all the time and we can get to all of the airports very quickly, even if it means using a private jet.

“Mexico has the world’s second largest number of aircraft after the US – 9000 – and I think there is a big opportunity for aerospace-related companies located in Nuevo León to produce parts for the domestic market, including tyres and windows.

“The Mexican Congress is expected soon to pass legislation to regulate the manufacture of aircraft in the country and, once those rules are in place, it should be easier to build aircraft in the country and export them abroad.”

Mr Dieck adds that at the end of last year Mexico signed a bi-lateral agreement with the US to export aircraft parts to the US market and that should be a boost to the local industry.

Satisfied customers

MD Helicopters has two plants in Monterrey with a total of more than 27,870 square metres and started operations there in September 2006. It manufactures fuselages for commercial helicopters and has been certified as meeting AS91000, a new aerospace quality standard. MD Helicopters’ Monterrey plants have 100 direct employees, including 10 engineers, and have made a total of 64 fuselages since 2007.

“The state has many pluses for aerospace companies,” says Ignacio Támez, MD Helicopters Monterrey’s general manager. “It has a large number of well-trained engineers. There is a rich aerospace-related workforce pool. It has good transportation systems, including air and land. It is home to a number of companies that are able to certify quality systems.

“Furthermore, [Nuevo León] has a highly professional working environment and many entrepreneurial business people. I believe there are many opportunities for aerospace companies here, especially tier-two and tier-three suppliers. It also has competitive labour costs and excellent industrial relations.”

Tecmaq has had a plant in Monterrey for 10 years and is located at the National Industrial Park in the Ciénega de Flores neighbourhood of the city. It specialises in toning and milling; currently, only 3% of its sales are to the aerospace industry but the company expects to increase this proportion to more than 20% within four to five years and will focus on machining and configuration of aircraft parts.

“Nuevo León really does depend on the US,” says Carlos Ramirez, Tecmaq’s general manager. “I believe our production will pick up this year and return to 2008 levels. I think the state can provide an aerospace supplier base for the whole country.

“I would highlight the vision of the managers here; they are very entrepreneurial and have an American approach to business.”

Jaiter has had a plant in Monterrey for 30 years and employs 80 people, including six engineers. It carries out ring machining for the automotive and aerospace sectors (60% of its sales are for automotive and 40% for aerospace).

“Nuevo León feels much more secure than other states in Mexico,” says Jaime Perez, Jaiter’s general manager. “Security is not such a big issue here. I think the aerospace cluster is an excellent idea, as it helps us to generate relationships with companies in the industry throughout the world. Everything that an aerospace-related business needs is already in place in the state.”

Civil association

The aerospace cluster in Nuevo León has now been set up as a formal civil association with a legal structure. It has a general assembly and there are working groups dedicated to every aspect of the aerospace industry.

The association’s main responsibilities are to ensure that its members remain competitive, and to promote Nuevo León as an aerospace centre.

It helps its members in three ways: first, human resources, by improving the training of technicians and engineers and ensuring that universities provide the technical skills that companies need; second, quality, which involves helping the companies to acquire important certifications, such as AS9100, and raise their standards generally; and, third, technical expertise, which includes bringing technical consultants from the US to train members’ staff to solve administrative and productive problems.

The cluster puts strong emphasis on Nuevo León’s strengths in forging, sheet metal and machining. One of its main goals is to attract companies at all levels of the aerospace supply chain. It sees other aerospace clusters in Mexico as complementary and believes it is important that all the clusters share an integrated strategy to ensure that Mexico attracts major aerospace companies and remains at the forefront of technological development.

Nuevo León is one of the most important states for Mexico’s aerospace industry and looks set to retain this position. The state is in the industrial heart of the country and is situated very close to the US. It has some of the country’s best technical universities and is one of the most entrepreneurial parts of Mexico.

The cost of this report was underwritten by the government of Nuevo León. Reporting was carried out independently by fDi Magazine.