If there’s one thing that Jean-Francois Dupont has learned about the global aerospace business over the past few years, it’s that size matters.
Recognizing the challenges smaller companies face when striving to make an impact in a market where customers tend to be huge national or multi-national corporations, Dupont sought to bulk up the company he co-founded, Montreal-based aerospace automation specialist AV&R Vision & Robotics.
The result was a merger last year with automation manufacturer IMAC Automation to form AV&R, the world’s largest aerospace industry robotics firm and one of Quebec’s largest engineering firms specializing in automation.
With a staff of 120 people including 80 engineers, Dupont believes AV&R is now well positioned to grow its business globally.
“What we faced is a good lesson for any small Canadian aerospace company,” says Dupont. “Consolidation is a must. There are many smaller companies offering similar services, but OEMs generally want to deal with just one supplier in a specific area and that’s what we’ve created for our customers.”
The merger created a company that can now offer more complete automation, robotics and machine (digital) vision solutions to its customers, he adds.
And with a customer list that includes Rolls Royce and Pratt & Whitney with manufacturing plants around the world, AV&R has to have the capacity to provide services where and when they are needed – and that’s a challenge in itself.
“Once we’ve established a relationship with a customer, they expect us to be on the ground with partners and local representatives in their time zones and at their locations,” says Dupont. “In some cases that means having people who understand the local business culture and speak the local language. These are challenges that any Canadian company looking to grow business overseas needs to consider.”
He adds that even in the U.S. where customers could once be served by Canadian representatives who would periodically visit U.S. customers, American firms and U.S. authorities now increasingly insist that suppliers maintain a local presence including staff with U.S. citizenship.
Challenges like these don’t deter Dupont. The U.S. remains AV&R’s main target market and the company is planning to open an office there. His other two top markets are France where there’s a growing demand for aerospace automation, and China, which is moving steadily towards more automation in manufacturing.
Export Development Canada (EDC) aerospace sector advisor, Robert Caouette, says AV&R’s experience is typical of many Canadian companies looking for opportunities in the global aerospace industry.
“Canadian SMEs, although growing, are starting to lose ground in global supply chains compared to suppliers from other countries,” he says.
“Most are simply too small to sell directly to very big OEMs like Airbus and Boeing, so their need to focus on building relationships with the tier one and tier two suppliers to the OEMs. That’s where they can build business.”
Tips from AV&R president and CEO Jean-Francois Dupont
- Consolidate. Trump smaller competitors and appeal to global aerospace OEMs that prefer to deal with just one supplier in a specific area.
- Build focused core competencies. Through its merger AV&R can now offer its customers complete automation, robotics and machine (digital) vision solutions, making it a specialized one-stop shop.
- Go to your customers. Establish a local presence near to your customers, including hiring staff that understand the local business culture and language.