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Aerospace composites in Quebec: a wealth of players and R&D

News International-French

22 Feb 2011

Located not far from New York, the Greater Montreal metropolitan area is one of the world’s three major aerospace hubs, along with Seattle and Toulouse. Practically all of Quebec’s aerospace industry is based there, along with most of Canada’s aerospace R&D. Composite materials have become an absolute must in the industry, and the region and its manufacturers are investing in them more and more.

Canada’s aerospace production generates US$12.4 billion in sales (2009). Quebec handles more than 60% of that production, most of which is concentrated in and around Montreal.


International scope

The presence of world-class specifiers, technical centres and equipment manufacturers is a sign of the prestige enjoyed by Quebec’s aerospace industry. All together, they provide jobs for 80% of the industry’s workers and generate 90% of its sales.


Several large manufacturers are based in the area, including Bombardier Aerospace, Bell Helicopter Textron Canada, CAE, Pratt & Whitney Canada. A number of major equipment manufacturers are also established there, such as GE Canada, Aveos and Rolls-Royce Canada, Héroux- Devtek, Lockheed Martin, Rheinmetall Canada, MDA Space, Esterline CMC Electronics, Messier-Dowty, Turbomeca and Thales Avionique.


The region is also home to a large number of international organizations, including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), the global headquarters of the Cospas-Sarsat Programme (international satellite-based search and rescue system) and the Canadian space agency (CSA).


Another significant fact is that 80% of Quebec’s aerospace production is exported. The region relies on a dynamic investment strategy and on specialized institutional players like the Quebec aerospace association AQA, which is the largest Canadian association to represent and uphold Quebec’s smaller businesses and the Consortium for Research and Innovation in Aerospace in Quebec (CRIAQ).


One example of the strategy is a range of tax measures that allow large businesses and foreign manufacturers to reduce their R&D costs by 40% or more. Other aid mechanisms encourage companies to pool their research activities within consortiums. There is also a five-year degressive provincial tax exemption for foreign research scientists, managers and specialists who come to work in Quebec.


Greater Montreal

With 98% of Quebec’s aerospace business based in the Greater Montreal area, the region joins Seattle and Toulouse as one of the world’s three largest aerospace hubs. One out of every 190 Quebeckers works in the aerospace industry; one out of every 95 Greater Montreal inhabitants has an aerospace-related job.


234 aerospace companies are based in Greater Montreal, employing 40,200 people, which is more than 50% of the Canadian aerospace sector’s total workforce. Seventy percent of Canada’s aerospace R&D is carried out there. The region’s companies have formed the Aéro Montréal industrial cluster in Greater Montreal to exchange, work together and optimize the industry competitiveness. With its world-class Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) and R&D facilities, Montreal is able to cover the full aeronautical spectrum. The Greater Montreal metropolitan area is one of the rare places in the world where you can find nearly all aircraft components within a 30-km radius. The region also has a highly reputed network of universities and technical schools.



We decided to map out the locations where composite parts are designed, manufactured, assembled or tested, as exhaustively as possible (see Figure 1). Even if the region has not exactly been a pioneer in composites, it is now clearly putting its efforts into becoming a major player in that sector. Its universities and research centres have an excellent international reputation. Companies there like Bombardier and Bell Helicopter are acting as catalysts. As contractors continue to cut down on subcontractors, the sector’s smaller businesses will probably need to reach a critical size before they are allowed to “play with the big boys”. But this is also the case elsewhere (see interview on page 16).



The local composite industry should benefit from the region’s dynamism and heavy focus on R&D in the aerospace sector.





JEC Composites Magazine: How did you become CEO of FDC Composites?

JACQUES CABANA : When I finished my studies, I joined the Canadian Forces and became a superior officer, mainly in operations and logistics, including a 1993-1994 stint as peacekeeper during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I held a number of management jobs in human resources, logistics, information technology and operations before becoming managing general manager for the Canadian subsidiary of Advanced Aero Company, in the USA. I was in charge of putting in place an aircraft manufacturing plant and of marketing operations in Canada. In 2004, I became CEO and co-owner of Flight Dynamics Corp., which provided the aviation industry with engineering and manufacturing services in the field of composite materials. In 2008, an associate and I started up FDC Composites Inc. in Saint-Jean-sur- Richelieu, Quebec. Our company specializes in the manufacture of composite materials for the aviation and railway segments of the transport sector.


JCM: Which technologies are you the most qualified in?

J. C.: One of our strong points is design and manufacturing of aircraft parts using Resin Infusion (a version of Vacuum Assisted Resin Transfer Moulding - VARTM). We developed our expertise in that area during an R&D project that started in 2001 and lasted for six years, on a budget of US$11 million. We worked mainly with the École Polytechnique of Montréal and the National Research Council of Canada, with some contributions from McGill University and the University of British Colombia, to fully characterize the mechanical properties of parts manufactured using Resin Infusion, up to aircraft primary Structure level. As part of the project, we carried out thousands of static and dynamic tests, using a testing pyramid method through to complete assemblies. A large number of tests were also carried out in climatic chambers and for fire and lightning resistance. This provided us with a valuable database. As a result, we can make high-performance aircraft parts, even structural parts, without following the standard prepregs+autoclave process. As an exemple, we use the technique to make large sandwich panels. By applying a quality control system that is certified by Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA), we are able to take care of not only the manufacturing process, but also design and engineering, stress analysis, tests and certification, and tooling fabrication.


JCM: Can you give us a brief overview of what is going on at FDC Composites?

J. C.: As I’ve just mentioned, we invested $11 million in R&D for our collaborative infusion project, from 2001 to 2007. Initially, we used this technique to make parts for an all-composite, single-engine amphibious aircraft. Even the structural parts were made of composite materials, for cost reasons. Unfortunately, this very large customer ceased its operations in 2007. It was a real blow to us, but the experience helped us to fine-tune our technologies.


At the same time as we were working on infusion, we developed our own adhesives for our composite materials and we developed our capability to manufacture parts using vacuum bagging and hand layup. We can meet several different aeronautical certifications, including FAR 23 and FAR 25 for interior and exterior parts.


The parts we manufactured included the 90%-infused engine cowl for the Cessna 182, and complete interior shell (panel) kits for CRJ 100/200 business conversions as well as green aircraft such as the Challenger 850. For the panels, we used specially formulated epoxy resin instead of phenolic resin. We also use infusion to make made parts for Embraer aircraft, fairing panels for Daher Socata’s TBM 850, and other programs. We manufacture a number of non-aircraft parts, such as interior train parts and simulator parts for the Mechtronix of Montreal. We are also a tier-one supplier for Viking Aircraft Ltd, as we provide the cockpit doors, the lower engine panels and the interior and exterior fairing panels (these are always infused). We deliver the doors fully assembled ready for final assembly and paint.


With the business aviation crisis, we have had to find new growth drivers, so we also manufacture train parts meeting the ASTM E162 and ASTM E662 specifications (interior panels for conversion facilities to refurbish railway cars) and wind-turbine nacelle parts. We would also like to manufacture wind-turbine blades.


JCM: What are your views on the future?

J. C.: A composite company has to be careful not to put all of its stakes into a single market or program. It should be on the look-out for new trends, products and developments. For example, we are interested in thermoplastics. In terms of markets, we would like to balance our portfolio of activities as follows: 50% aviation, 25% railway and 25% energy. We also would like to grow – conceivably through acquisitions. The major OEMs are looking for first tier suppliers with sales of US$100 million and be able to deliver complete integrated subassemblies, starting with small OEMs.


It is important to integrate the full line of services from design to manufacturing. The real added value lies in being able to turn the initial concept into a finished product, as we did with the complete cockpit door assemblies for Viking Air Ltd.


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