Strata moving to a whole new level
Major contracts in recent months mark a further milestone in Al Ain-based Strata Manufacturing's journey towards becoming a major player in the world aerostructures market, as well as becoming an increasingly important employer in the UAE. Alan Dron reports.
It was a busy couple of days for composites aerostructures manufacturer, Strata, at this summer’s Farnborough International Airshow in the UK.
First, Airbus announced that Strata would manufacture the horizontal tail plane for the A320 narrow-body twinjet, together with the inboard flaps for the new A350-900 twin-aisle airliner, in an agreement worth more than $1 billion.
The following day, Boeing followed this up with a multi-year contract to manufacture vertical fins for the 787 Dreamliner.
The contract award was the latest in a series of agreements signed by Boeing and Strata, and with Strata’s parent company, Mubadala, since 2011.
The vertical fin expands the organisation’s role as a direct supplier of primary aerostructure components to Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ programmes. It was another significant step towards meeting commitments that Boeing and Mubadala made in 2013 that included the supply of up to $2.5 billion in advanced composites and aerostructures to the programmes.
Strata is already Boeing’s first direct composites supplier in the Arab world and is currently delivering 777 empennage ribs and 787 vertical fin ribs. The new contract for vertical fins will give Boeing an additional source for that component, with it still being made in the US.
“This contract reflects significant commitment and investment by UAE and Mubadala leaders to expand their aerospace manufacturing capabilities and support their long-term economic vision,” noted Ray Conner, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
“The announcement is a reflection of the long-standing relationship between Strata and Boeing, and is testament to the trust that one of the world’s largest aerospace companies has placed in its partnership with Strata,” added Badr Al Olama, Strata’s CEO.
Strata has expanded rapidly since its inception late last decade. The latest two contracts will see a considerable growth in the company’s workload and the company has already built an extension to its existing facility in the Nibras Al Ain Aerospace Park.
The new deal for the A320 tail plane will see Strata using cutting-edge automation and high-rate production technology to help meet Airbus’ plans to increase production of its popular A320 family to 60 aircraft a month in mid-2019.
For such a young company, winning such a large component as the A320’s tail plane is a major achievement. Strata’s deputy CEO, Ismail Abdulla, said: “Nothing was granted to us, this was given to us based on our ability to deliver. Over the last six years we’ve built our credibility and have proven that we can deliver on time and on cost for the largest manufacturers in the world.
“However, despite our achievements, our team is eager for more successful projects. The ambition is to be one of the top aerostructure companies in the world.
“Our aim is to double our revenue: last year it was 400 million dirhams ($109m). This year we are on target to exceed this number. By the end of the decade it should be close to 1 billion dirhams.
The A320 tail plane and 787 vertical fin will be built in a new facility at the company’s Al Ain site. The company has acquired a 175,000sqm plot adjacent to its current facility to cope with the necessary expansion and is working with both Boeing and Airbus to define the precise timeline for starting production there. It is anticipated to be towards the end of 2018.
The new products will see the introduction of automated lay-up of the composite material, which today is still done by hand and is manpower-intensive. “We’re investing in automation and are currently looking at a number of projects,” said Abdulla.
“This is in line with what’s happening around the world. At the end of the day, we need to differentiate ourselves in the market; manufacturing is available around the world, so what’s the differentiating factor we can offer? It’s going to be automation. That’s a key selling point.”
Strata’s expansion plans are on track and the integrated project teams (IPTs) for the respective new products have begun engagement with the customers to ensure robust plans are in place to continue Strata’s legacy of delivering quality products on time and cost.
Another major selling point is the same one that has been a factor behind the phenomenal rise of Gulf airlines, namely the region’s geographical position.
“People refer to this region as the Middle East, but I refer to it as ‘Middle Earth’. A seven-hour flight from here covers two-thirds of the world’s population,” said Abdulla.
“In the UAE we have three of the fastest-growing airports in the world and two of the fastest-growing airlines.”
Abdulla put one of the reasons for Strata’s success down to its use of IPTs for each individual product. Each has a programme manager, plus talent from the company’s various departments, such as procurement, operations and engineering. They are shadowed by a counterpart team from the customer and the arrangement enables both sides to work closely together on projects.
Strata is particularly proud of its role in providing employment, said Abdulla: “It was agreed with Mubadala that Strata would be not only financially viable but would also create new job opportunities in Al Ain, which has the highest unemployment rate in the emirate.
“Jobs in Al Ain are very scarce; there aren’t a lot of opportunities for Emirati nationals. For many local residents the only options are to commute to Abu Dhabi or Dubai.” This was one of the reasons why Mubadala Aerospace and Engineering Services made the strategic decision to place the factory in Nibras.
“Our commitment was that we would have half of our workforce drawn from Emiratis. Today, our Emirati rate has reached 48% in just six years [since we started operations] and 86% of that number are women.” Of 48 team leaders at Strata, 28 are Emirati women, as are four of 11 team supervisors.
On the wider front, Strata’s role aligns with that of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former president of the UAE, who realised that the country had to move away from its dependence on hydrocarbons and diversify its economy into sustainable industries that would provide it with a long-term future.
In addition, more than 50% of Strata’s suppliers are local and UAE-based suppliers contribute 40% of the company’s total procurement – a figure that has grown by 10% in just two years.
Strata manufactures composite components, performs assembly of the components and manages its supply chain from its facility in the Nibras Al Ain Aerospace Park, where it is expanding its capabilities to meet the growing demands of world-leading aircraft manufacturers.
The aerospace park is a multi-faceted 5sqkm development that is supporting the establishment of a sustainable aerospace industry in Abu Dhabi. Jointly created by Mubadala and Abu Dhabi Airport Company (ADAC), and in line with Abu Dhabi economic vision 2030, Nibras is a key driver in diversifying the emirate’s economy. The park will be a hub for key aerospace-related activities, including manufacturing, pilot training and maintenance, repair and overhaul.