During the Paris Air Show, Olivier Jarrault took a few moments to reflect on both Alcoa’s future in the aerospace market, as well as the key messages that the company is conveying at the show.
Q. Can we begin with just a brief description of the roles you now occupy within Alcoa?
A. Sure. I now wear two hats. First, as the group executive for our Engineered Products and Solutions (EPS) unit, I oversee the bulk of Alcoa’s so-called “downstream” products which we’ve grouped into five sectors:
• Aerospace (which comprises about half of our revenues);
• Commercial transportation;
• Non-residential building and construction;
• Industrial gas turbines; and
• Oil and gas.
The other hat I wear is that of executive sponsor for Alcoa Aerospace. In that capacity, I try to leverage information and resources not only for the business units within EPS but other business and resource units that serve the aerospace market across the Corporation.
Q. One of the big stories this week at the show concerns questions about the ability of the aerospace supply chain to support large commercial aircraft build-rate increases of as much as 30 percent over the next couple of years. Is Alcoa ready?
A. The short answer is “yes.” The confidence in our ability to meet rising demand stems from several sources. First, we’ve been steadily expanding our organic capacity over the past several years not only within our US and European domestic facilities but with expansions in such countries as Mexico, China, India and Morocco. Second, we’ve added inorganic capacity via recent acquisitions we’ve made such as Linread, Valley-Todeco and the fastening division of the Transdigm Corporation. Third, we can add extra capacity by continuing to build on the breakthrough strides we’ve made in productivity via new processes and capital equipment. And finally, we’re simply better at anticipating the size and sequence of that additional demand. By working more closely with our customers and improving our forecasting tools, we’ve been able to develop a more precise understanding of what the industry will require and when they will require it.
Q. A large portion of your aerospace products aren’t made out of aluminum. How does that work within a company like Alcoa that is so closely associated with that one metal?
A. It actually works quite well indeed. That’s because our EPS unit in general and our aerospace business in particular is a solutions-oriented enterprise. We don’t start with a particular material in mind. Instead, we start with the challenges that our customers face and then devise the optimal solution regardless of the material in question. Over time, we’ve developed a portfolio of products that utilize not only aluminum but also titanium, nickel-based super alloys and high-strength steels amongst others. It might surprise a lot of people to know that the majority of products that EPS produces are actually made out of materials other than aluminum.
Q. By just walking around the show, one can’t help notice how global this industry is. What’s Alcoa doing to broaden its international footprint?
A. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve already expanded our presence beyond the US and Western Europe into such places as China, Hungary, Morocco, Japan and India. But the larger point is that we are prepared to go wherever our customers need us to be. You’re right – the industry is indeed globalizing at a rapid pace. For instance, in a few years there will be no fewer than five regional jet producers – Mitsubishi (Japan), COMAC (China) and Sukhoi (Russia) will join ranks with the current incumbents Bombardier (Canada) and Embraer (Brazil). These customers can’t effectively be served at an arms-length distance. If they are expanding their footprint, we must, in turn, follow suit wherever that happens to be across the globe.
Q. The Alcoa Stand contains what appears to be an impressive number of display items. Why were these particular items selected and what messages regarding innovation/technological development are they meant to convey?
A. Each and every item we’ve selected to display at this year’s show represents the true state-of-the-art within our industry. Though there are too many to describe individually, let me just provide a few examples:
• C24S Aluminum-Lithium Stretched Formed Panel – To borrow the title from one of the Star Wars films, this is our “Empire Strikes Back.” It is our response to the threat of substitution posed by CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic). This new, third-generation aluminum-lithium alloy, when used in conjunction with novel assembly techniques, promises to meet or beat the competition with respect to weight and maintenance requirements with significantly lower costs and technical risk.
• High-Pressure Turbine Airfoils – These are the components in the so-called “hot section” of an aero engine. They operate at temperatures so hot that they would otherwise melt without the integration of sophisticated cooling techniques. It is these airfoils that enable such customers as GE, Rolls-Royce and Pratt-Whitney to deliver propulsion systems that provide fuel consumption improvements of around 15 percent versus their last generation models.
• Flite-Tite – This device was engineered specifically to meet the unique requirements associated with joining CFRP-based structures. It’s design solves delamination and lighting strike concerns – two of the issues which have plagued “plastic” materials for decades.
Q. So? How was the show?
A. Outstanding. We accomplished both of our major objectives. We had quite literally dozens of serious discussions with our customers and suppliers while showcasing all that Alcoa has to offer to this industry in the best possible light. A great week all around.