Wings Magazine

Joining forces for excellence

It may be not be the largest aerospace cluster in Canada, but there’s no denying that Manitoba’s burgeoning aerospace hub is one of the nation’s most impressive and diverse.

November 14, 2013  By Stacy Bradshaw

It may be not be the largest aerospace cluster in Canada, but there’s no denying that Manitoba’s burgeoning aerospace hub is one of the nation’s most impressive and diverse. And with its universal commitment to innovation, grassroots education and industry collaboration, the sky truly is the limit for its future success and growth.

With 1,650 employees in Winnipeg, Canada’s largest composite manufacturing facility is getting even larger. PHOTO: Boeing

Generating annual revenues of $1.6 billion and employing a workforce of some 5,500 skilled workers, Manitoba boasts more than 40 aerospace-related businesses, making up a strong and growing supply chain. As the third largest aerospace hub behind Montreal and Ontario, some 80 per cent of the aerospace products and services produced in the province are exported to customers in six continents around the world, illustrating its importance as a global aerospace leader.

Corporate aerospace firms such as the “big three” of Boeing, Magellan and StandardAero, draw much of the attention as global influencers, but several other companies are making waves in the international marketplace for their specialization in a number of markets including manufacturing, repair and overhaul, aircraft modifications, cold-weather engine testing, and composite design.


EMTEQ, Cormer Aerospace, AeroRecip, Argus Industries, the Composite Innovation Centre (CIC), Advanced Composite Structures, Standard Manufactures, MicroPilot, Cadorath and Enduron, are all gaining traction on the international stage, as are several others. (For more, see, “Ones to watch,” pg. 40.) All have helped raise the footprint of the growing Manitoba aerospace sector.

“We want grow the industry locally, regionally and nationally,” says Ken Webb, executive director of the Manitoba Aerospace Association, which represents 40 aerospace companies and its partners in the province. “We all want to be successful in our companies and by doing that, we will continue to grow and prosper and the good will get better. But we also do think of ourselves as a region, and part of one of the world’s leading aerospace countries, and look at how we harness the wisdom and talent and use that collectively to grow all of our businesses and support the growth of the aerospace industry in Canada.

“People know about the Magellans, the Boeings, the StandardAeros . . . but they may not know about Argus Industries for example. We can introduce them to Argus through the strength of our collective identity.”

Building a path

The Manitoba Aerospace Association mandate to be a “Centre of Excellence” catalyst for business growth and global delivery of world-class aerospace manufactured products and value-added services by strong aerospace companies and partners seems to be precisely what is taking place in the province of Manitoba.

Working with engines such as the CF345 is just one of the services provided by Winnipeg’s StandardAero.
PHOTO: StandardAero


Several companies are at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies and processes and one of the biggest catalysts is the work being done in composite technology, design and manufacturing. The Boeing Canada Winnipeg plant, for example, currently manufactures composite components for several Boeing commercial aircraft, including the 787 Dreamliner, perhaps the most advanced commercial aircraft in terms of aerospace design – certainly from a composite perspective. (For more on the Dreamliner, see “Getting ready to board,” page 24.)

A 150,000-sq.-ft. expansion will bring the main Boeing plant to 665,000 sq. ft. To put it into perspective, this new expansion is equivalent to about the size of 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The first Winnipeg-based expansion for Boeing since 1990 will be used primarily to build the one-piece composite acoustic inner barrel for the engine inlet of the 737 MAX. The part will help make the aircraft 40 times quieter than it is today.

“It’s a very sophisticated structure that quiets the noise from the primary fan that we are building for the airplane,” said Rick Jensen, director of communications and community and government relations during a recent plant tour with Wings. “Our plant here is the largest composite operation in Canada.”

The new expansion, coupled with the company’s strong composite design and technology footprint, will invariably position Boeing Canada Winnipeg very well in the months and years ahead. With the growing need to replace aging commercial fleets worldwide, Boeing’s, leadership and development in composite manufacturing will enable it to be a catalyst for the future growth of Winnipeg’s aerospace community – and Manitoba aerospace as a whole.

“Yes, we are in very good position for the future,” Jensen acknowledged. “Both short term and long term, we see a strong and growing aviation market. Our backlog is large and growing, which is why we continue to increase our production rates. The books are full, as are those for Airbus, so when you have a backlog as we do, we have to tell customers that they have to wait five to six years to find significant spots on the production line. So, that’s a challenge.”

Leadership in composite manufacturing is also a key part of the business model at Winnipeg’s Magellan Aerospace. Formerly known as Bristol Aerospace, Magellan designs and manufactures complex aeroengine and structural assemblies, small satellites, and a family of rocket systems. In June, Magellan signed a significant deal with BAE Systems to work on the F-35 Lightning II program. Under the terms of the agreement, Magellan will produce more than 1,000 sets of horizontal tails for the Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) variant of the F-35 program over a 20-year period.

The F-35A horizontal tail assemblies’ components require advanced composite manufacturing, machining capabilities and strict quality standards. The majority of the components used for the assembly are produced in Magellan’s divisions, including the Winnipeg location. It’s a lucrative proposition for the company, as the horizontal tail production under the program has a potential value of more than $1.2 billion over the life of the deal. To date, the company has achieved sales of more than $100 million Canadian on the F-35.

Scott McCrady, Magellan’s corporate director of the JSF Program, said the contract is obviously a “very important one” to Magellan but it has also meant expanding the Winnipeg-based facilities to very demanding environmental specifications to produce the complex assemblies. “No one in Winnipeg had produced a building like this where you had temperature control requirements of plus or minus two degrees across the majority of 140,000 sq. ft.,” McCrady said. “One element of this building requires plus or minus one degree. It’s all about maintaining the manufacturing tolerance during the assembly phase . . . it’s a very, very tight quality assurance situation.”

While Magellan’s Winnipeg-based aerospace and composite footprint is impressive, the company’s relevance also extends to the space industry. In September, the company was awarded a $110-million contract from B.C.’s MDA to manufacture the satellite buses for the RADARSAT Constellation Manufacture (RCM) satellite bus. The RCM is composed of three low Earth orbit spacecraft, each carrying a C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) payload. The Winnipeg plant is responsible for the construction of three spacecraft buses, including the control systems, on-board computers, power generation and distribution systems electronics, onboard wiring, and onboard communications to the ground. It’s a high-profile contract that further solidifies the diversity of Magellan’s aerospace capabilities.

“RCM is one of the largest space projects that has ever been undertaken by Canada to date and Magellan is proud to be the tier one subcontractor in this mission,” said James Butyniec, president and CEO of Magellan Aerospace. “National programs like RCM are critical in keeping our domestic space technology capabilities relevant as well as providing benefits for Canadians.”

Another Manitoba-based aerospace organization making inroads in composite design and innovation is Winnipeg’s Composites Innovation Centre. Founded in 2003 to support and stimulate economic growth through industry-driven applied research and the development of industrial applications for advanced composite materials, the CIC works with industry partners to develop new technologies for composite materials.

To date, the not-for-profit organization, which is supported by government and industry, has transferred 61 technologies, established 20 new design capabilities and assisted in the start-up of five businesses. With 21,000 sq. ft. of office and lab space in Winnipeg and a staff of 27 engineers and designers, the CIC provides clients several capabilities, including computer design, funding model analysis, process development, manufacturing problem solving and project management. Key aerospace clients include Boeing Winnipeg Canada, Magellan Aerospace, EMTEQ and Cormer. In August, the CIC was awarded $4.2 million in funding by the Western Economic Diversification Canada for the development of new projects.

“We are a not-for-profit organization. We are supported by the province to be the leading organization for developing composite solutions for our manufacturing partners,” said Sean McKay, executive director of CIC. “Our mission is to drive economic growth. We need to assist industry in areas where they don’t have expertise, and one of the things about composite technology is it is a unique technology. A lot of companies have background with metals and plastics, but reinforced plastics or composites are a unique niche.”

The CIC is essentially an industry led entity, which reflects the needs of the local aerospace industry. It also teams with Red River College and the University of Manitoba and Manitoba Aerospace to work for the best composite solution for its clients.

“Essentially, we’re here to increase the cluster’s resource capability and depth,” said McKay. “We do that by developing our staff’s skills with cross-training assignments, broadening their onsite capability with design and rotation with industry. For example, we have three of our engineering staff onsite at Boeing Winnipeg doing design, analysis and tech design on a rotation plan – and it’s a three-year commitment from Boeing that we hope to continue.”

The CIC also works to develop innovative composite solutions in the ground transportation and biomass industries.

The power of collaboration

The creation of organizations such as the CIC to help provide companies with solutions for the development of advanced composite designs, is indicative of the nature of the Manitoba aerospace environment – there’s a level of industry collaboration here that doesn’t seem to exist in other parts of the country. Industry, government and academia with Winnipeg’s Red River College and the University of Manitoba are closely entwined on a number of key projects within several Manitoba-based aerospace companies making for a truly unified cluster.

Magellan Aerospace specializes in complex and integrated aerospace products and services and is actively pursuing interests in composite manufacturing.
PHOTO: Magellan


Robert Manson, senior project manager with Manitoba Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade, notes that the idea of working together has its roots in the province’s rich aviation tradition. “First of all, we are the home of the air force and it has been a very aviation-related community for decades,” Manson told Wings. So, it’s a natural evolution to see that cooperation takes place among academia, industry and government in our province.

“Every project that we have going involves collaboration across multiple stakeholders to maximize the value and impact,” he said.

Webb concurs and notes that the provincial government goes above and beyond to support this critical economic driver. “Our provincial government has identified aerospace as a key sector for the Manitoba economy,” Webb said. “In fact, they have an aerospace business development specialist. We are fortunate because not all provincial governments have strategically designated aerospace separately from the major industries in the area.”

There have been many examples of collaboration within industry, government and academia over the years, but several stand out for their ability to drive innovation and development. An excellent example recently and involved EMTEQ, Boeing, Cormer Aerospace the CIC and the UBC led Composite Research Network (CRN) on the development of EMTEQ’s first set of composite interior panels to a major customer.

EMTEQ worked closely with the CIC to develop an out-of-autoclave solution to manufacture interior panels with the goals of improving visual aesthetics and durability. EMTEQ also worked to optimize the design and process for lean manufacturing and then worked with engineers from the CRN, to streamline the creation of its new composite manufacturing capability. Boeing got involved in the process when EMTEQ encountered a snag in the layup and bagging process. Subject matter experts from Boeing worked to help solve the problem. Cormer Aerospace provided specialized equipment. The first part was delivered in just 17 weeks.

“It’s actually quite an impressive story,” Webb said. “It would have been an impressive story had they just taken over the part and manufactured it using a conventional process that they already had. To use an out-of-autoclave process and develop a capacity that they didn’t even have in the first place really is special. And they couldn’t have done it by themselves. But with the support of the Composite Innovation Centre, Boeing and others, they were able to do this.”

Some other notable efforts of collaboration worth noting include:

  • The Canadian Composites Manufacturing R&D (CCMRD) and the CIC and consortium members, including Boeing and the CIC, are helping to develop composite manufacturing capabilities for Cormer Aerospace.
  • The CIC is working with Boeing and others to develop a new design cell, building up a local pool of high-quality personnel. Under the guidance and coordination of the CIC, design professionals and students are rotating through Boeing to temporarily augment Boeing’s technical staff. After exposure to Boeing’s way of designing they are more experienced and available to other companies. Magellan and EMTEQ are also taking part.
  • Magellan has also worked with the CIC on its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Magellan needed to expand its composite capabilities, and CIC worked with the company to get them qualified for their contract with BAE to meet Lockheed Martin standards.
  • Manitoba is a world leader in icing and environmental engine testing and its two test centres reveal examples of strong collaborative efforts.
  • The Global Aerospace Centre for Icing and Environmental Research (GLACIER) in Thompson, is a joint venture between Rolls-Royce Canada and Pratt & Whitney. The $50-million facility received repayable financing from the province of Manitoba and financial support from Western Economic Diversification Canada to acquire specialized equipment that is owned and leased to the facility through the not-for-profit Environmental Test Research & Educational Centre (EnviroTREC). The National Research Council also provides specialized technology to the facility under a contractual agreement. EnviroTREC, through workshops, partnerships and project investment, has been successful in mentoring technology and economic development and the development of qualified people.
  • The $50-million GE Aviation Engine Testing Research and Development Centre in Winnipeg, meanwhile, is a collaboration between GE Aviation, StandardAero, and the not-for-profit West Canitest R&D Inc., which has received funding contributions from Western Economic Diversification to facilitate additional technology growth and year-round utilization. Owned by GE, the facility construction and ongoing operations are managed by StandardAero’s Winnipeg office. The Manitoba government is providing ongoing support to StandardAero.
  • StandardAero has developed a large number of new technologies in the repair of gas turbine components. In part, they are doing it in collaboration with the Red River College’s Centre for Aerospace Technology and Training (CATT), a shared advanced materials and laser welding lab located within StandardAero’s facilities and available to industry.

The future is now

Manitoba’s aerospace industry is also cognizant of the importance of working in unison to support the grassroots level and fuel the education pipeline. Industry leaders have set up numerous co-op and educational opportunities – and other strategic partnerships – with both Red River College and the University of Manitoba to help ensure future aerospace leaders can step into their roles and hit the ground running.

One of note is the Engineer-in-Residence (EIR) program at the University of Manitoba. Sponsored by industry partners, there are seven EIR’s at UofM and two are related to aerospace. Industry partners including Boeing, GE Aviation, GLACIER, EnviroTREC, WestCaRD and StandardAero work with the provincial government, the faculty of engineering and the Manitoba Aerospace Human Resources Council (MAHRC) to help sponsor the program.

“We basically share real work experience with the students,” said Kathryn Atamanchuk, a UofM graduate who previously worked as director of engineering at StandardAero. Atamanchuk is now a liaison between the province’s two gas turbine engine facilities and the university. “It’s about people with real industry experience bringing that to the classroom. Our mission really is to be role models to the students to let them know in an academic setting what it’s like in the real world.”

Generally, a lot of professors just go through academia, so to bring in that real-world perspective to the students is of real value. It is also helps graduate engineers who are ready to join the workforce, or other junior engineers already in the workforce, a chance to further develop their skills. “It’s a great opportunity to let them know what it is going to be like when they get out to the real world and are working in the profession,” Atamanchuk said.

The EIR plays a critical role in the development of educational enhancement, such as teaching new courses, soliciting and supervising capstone design projects in the sector, and liaising with industry and the university on research and development initiatives. “We can see Manitoba becoming a centre of excellence for aero engine testing,” Atamanchuk said. “To have a representative in the faculty, letting the students know about the industry and creating courses related to that is invaluable.”

Staying the course . . . but aiming higher

While industry collaboration, government support and an overall close-knit “community” approach are helping to drive the Manitoba aerospace cluster, the industry is not without its challenges. Competition from countries that have lower cost structures and stronger supply chains are real concerns and finding creative solutions will be a challenge going forward.

“Aerospace in the West is different in some ways. We have a cluster of capable aerospace companies but there is no anchor OEM and there is no final assembly plant,” Webb said. “So, we don’t have an integrated supply chain here. Surrounding a final assembly plant and the OEM, you’ve got an integrated supply chain supplying components and assemblies into an anchor site. Neither B.C. nor Manitoba has that. We both have a situation where companies work alongside one another, as they all work with their customers from around the world. Since their
customers are not here, our companies don’t do a lot of business with each other. They all do business elsewhere.”

One of the things the industry is trying to do is integrate the supply train locally to strengthen it and create more cohesion, recognizing that its markets will generally be more international. By strengthening the local supply chain, it may generate more activity and attract other companies to come to the province, Webb said.

To stay ahead of the curve, industry partners also have undergone a process to create a technology road map that details the key technologies that will drive business in the future.

“We’ve identified six strategic technologies, and have established working groups with aerospace leaders from across Manitoba,” Webb said. “They finished their basic reports at the end of August, and we are now pulling those together. There are six main areas of thrust and there are 24 different technologies. We are combing it all together into a final report and strategy in how to get there. We found that most of the technologies that we identified are consistent with the key technologies that the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada working group has identified.”

It should come as little surprise that such a cohesive aerospace unit is already collaborating internally to map the technologies that will drive the innovations and successes of tomorrow. It’s precisely the type of effort all Canada’s aerospace regions need to follow in order to maintain – and improve upon – a successful aerospace footprint. It’s also the proactive approach that David Emerson stressed in his major analysis of the Canadian aerospace industry.

“I think by building on our capacity and building on our strengths, such as composites, engines, manufacturing and MRO, that it will help build Canada’s strengths,” Webb said.

“And so, on a team, you all bring your own skills and gifts to the game. We want to bring all of our skills and all of our strengths to supporting a strong, global Canadian aerospace industry – now and for years to come.”

Ones to watch

Boeing, Magellan and StandardAero are certainly the “big three” when it comes to Manitoba aerospace, but there are a host of other strong players making their marks on the national and international stage. Here are some notables:

  • Advanced Composite Structures (ACS). Since 1988, ACS has provided main/tail rotor blade and composite component repair services for the Canadian helicopter and fixed-wing industries. ACS has and experienced, advanced in-house repair team that creates and develops cutting-edge solutions resulting in reliable aircraft composite components repairs and cost savings for clients.
  • AeroRecip. As Canada’s largest piston engine overhaul shop, AeroRecip is celebrating 25 years of business in 2013. Centrally located in Winnipeg, its 31,800-square foot shop boasts the only Dyno test facility in North America that can test both horizontally opposed engines as well as Pratt & Whitney radial engines (65 horsepower to 1,200 horsepower). AeroRecip works closely with both rotary and fixed-wing clients to find value-added solutions to all piston engine overhaul challenges.
  • Argus Industries. Headquartered in Winnipeg, Argus Industries has been providing rubber molded products and custom die cut gasket seals to industrial and aerospace clients around the world since 1962. A key supplier to Bombardier, it is known for its outstanding corporate culture. Argus Industries won Manitoba Aerospace Association’s Award of Excellence in Quality and Teamwork in 2007 for its strong team culture and commitment to client excellence.
  • Cadorath. A global leader in the repair, modification and overhaul of aeronautical products since 1954, Cadorath provides its diverse lineup of rotary and fixed-wing clients with more than 100,000 square feet of dedicated repair/overhaul workspace at its Winnipeg-based facility. As lean manufacturer specialists, Cadorath is able to deliver top value on all repair and modification projects for its rapidly growing list of rotary-wing clients.
  • Cormer Aerospace. Founded in 1988, this Winnipeg-based component manufacturer for the aerospace, agricultural, transportation and defence industries has just expanded in New Brunswick and Mexico and signed a bevy of major aerospace contracts with Boeing, Bombardier, Latecoere, FACC and Airbus. The company is also currently expanding its composite capabilities, which it hopes will eventually grow to 30 per cent of its aerospace footprint.
  • EMTEQ. A global aerospace parts and service company with seven locations around the world, EMTEQ was incorporated in 1996. The company is a world leader in aircraft interior design and mechanical systems integration, avionics systems and integration, interior lighting and exterior lighting products for retrofit and forward fit applications in the commercial, military, special mission, business and VIP aviation markets. Some 82 employees are housed at the Winnipeg location, which specializes in engineering design, interior modification, avionics/electrical systems design and interior certification. It is also in the process of expanding its composite manufacturing footprint.
  • Enduron. Based in Winnipeg, Enduron is a custom alloy fabrication specialist, working with key clients such as Air Canada, Magellan Aerospace and General Dynamics Canada. The company specializes in developing aerospace metal fabrication, the design and manufacture of mobile platform and access stands for the servicing of aircraft, metal fabrication and welding.
  • MicroPilot. Since 1994, MicroPilot has been recognized as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of small autopilots for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and micro aerial vehicles (MAV). With more than 750 clients in 65 countries worldwide, the company builds fixed and rotary-wing UAVs for a variety of applications including the MP2028, which is the world standard for UAV autopilots. MicroPliot also boasts its own UAV test facility situated on 40 acres of flat prairie 10 minutes north of Winnipeg.


Stories continue below