As an innovator in self-locking solutions for aircraft engines, France-based JPB Système, works with some of the world’s foremost aerospace and aeronautical manufacturers. One of the first companies in France to establish and run an Industry 4.0 production process, JPB is now capitalising on its expertise to diversify its technology proposition. In this Q&A, CEO Damien Marc, speaks to Aerospace Manufacturing about his company, the industry, the impact of legislation and the importance of emerging technologies that are re-shaping operations for manufacturers.
Q) Can you give us a brief introduction to your company – how did it all start?
It all started in 1993, when my father, Jean-Pierre Marc, was asked by aerospace engine manufacturer, Safran, to develop an innovative solution that would enable the removal of lockwires from the borescope used in the visual inspection of aircraft engines.
Back then the safety of the use of lockwires to secure all the engine’s connections, as well as the long maintenance time required (it took almost one hour to remove and reinstall them) was a growing concern for engine manufacturers. My father then spent the next six years developing a ground-breaking solution, namely a self-locking borescope plug that supported higher-level safety assurance and reduced the maintenance time from one hour to just 10 seconds. The success of this product saw it patented and later on certified on different aircraft engines, including the GE90-115 engine for the Boeing 777 and the G7200 engine for Airbus’ A380.
This led my father and his business partner, Bernard Barre, to create JPB Système, in 1995, which I then acquired in 2009. Since I took over, I have been working hard to grow and diversify the business, while ensuring we maintain our focus on innovation. JPB Système is now a global player with around 90 employees, three production facilities – in France, Poland and the US –, and a varied product portfolio targeted not only to aerospace but also to other manufacturing sectors.
Q) Can you give us a brief overview of your core offering today?
Our core business remains focused on developing innovative solutions for engine manufacturers in the aerospace, as well as automotive, railway, nautical industries. We have progressively improved our self-locking borescope plugs for aircraft engine inspections and now hold 100% of that market. However, this is a niche product, so we wanted to capitalise on our expertise, resources and equipment and expand our offering. The result is LulyLock, which we recently developed and patented. This is an advanced B-nut for fittings that features a unique self-locking device that ensures sealing of pipes, thereby preventing loosening and leakage caused by severe vibration and extreme thermal conditions. Eradicating the need for a lockwire or safety cable to secure the threaded parts within the engine, LulyLock is very disruptive and I believe there is significant growth potential for it in different industries.
Q) You have diversified your solutions offering with the introduction of an advanced Manufacturing Execution System – can you tell us more about this?
JPB Système is one of the first Industry 4.0 manufacturing facilities in France. Following the evolution of the aerospace industry and the need to compete at a global level, we managed to set up an automated and connected manufacturing plant, integrating robots and running overnight through remote monitoring. We further enhanced this by developing a MES solution enabling to connect, track and measure the effectiveness of all elements of the manufacturing process – including existing software, machinery and associated applications.
This pioneering middleware solution, KEYPROD, is designed to connect all elements of the manufacturing process and to measure their effectiveness. The solution is aimed to empower manufacturing companies seeking to embrace intelligent manufacturing and the Industry 4.0 revolution.
We subsequently decided to make the solution we created for JPB Système available to other companies. We developed a cutting-edge wireless sensor device – that can be affixed to machinery – that detects vibrations and sounds from manufacturing machines to provide an immediate status on their performance and deliver vital information from the production floor.
This is how we came up with KEYPROD, which was officially launched at the recent Paris Air Show. It is expected to be commercially available by the end of this year and will be sold through a newly-created spin-off company, KEYPROD.
Q) So the solution isn’t confined solely to aerospace manufacturers?
No, it has been developed to enable manufacturing companies, regardless of the sector in which they operate, to embrace intelligent manufacturing and the Industry 4.0 revolution. As well as aerospace, we are already speaking to a diverse range of companies spanning automotive, fashion, printing, plastic injection and cosmetics, so its potential is widespread.
Q) Is innovation central to your company ethos?
Indeed, it is central to the company’s vision and strategy, such that I believe we effectively sell innovation. Our business model is based on listening to customers’ problems and needs and – depending on the information and specific requirements– either developing new technology solutions or modifying existing products to meet client’s specific needs. The close engagement with customers and market players helps ensure that our R&D activity is always in line with the market evolution. Another one of our major strengths is the capability to react quickly to customers’ requirements and to develop new concepts and products in a very short time.
Q) What are the biggest changes you’ve seen within the aerospace sector?
While today’s market is more global than ever, aerospace manufacturers are experiencing unprecedented pressure, with the demand for aircraft units ramping up and the margins to invest in new technologies declining due to high international competition. On the top of this, an ever-present challenge for aerospace manufacturers is to boost efficiencies and reduce the costs of their production processes. This directly affects both the flexibility and the price ranges of the supply chain as manufacturers have access to providers from across the globe.
Q) From a manufacturing perspective, what has been the impact of those changes on the way you run your business?
Our customers’ expectations have changed. All in all, engine manufacturers are now looking for partners rather than suppliers, which means we must react quickly, but also be more proactive and innovative than ever. Not only are our customers focused on product quality, but they also demand fast delivery times, and supply chain flexibility. Naturally, they are seeking innovative, ground-breaking solutions that can be developed and certified quickly in order to help them operate at a global level.
As a French company competing within the global arena, I felt we needed to completely revolutionise our production operations and set ourselves on the path to the industry of the future and Industry 4.0. Human resources will always be central to our production, but we have worked hard to set up a smartly-connected facility, incorporating automated production processes and robots, enabling real-time data collection, as well as remote monitoring from different smart devices.
Q) Do the regulatory requirements within the aerospace industry affect your business, or your supply chain at all?
Working in the aerospace industry, we need to have standard certifications, namely ISO 9001 and AS9100, which relate to the adopted quality management system. We must also obtain quality and performance certifications for our products by each customer, which entails long processes of testing the product on the engine. In fact, in the aerospace industry, the average time to market for a new project with a client is about five to six years. Therefore, it is crucial that we are extremely responsive to customers’ requirements.
Q) Are you looking to alternative production methods – such as 3D printing – for part production?
Yes, I think that 3D printing will continue to positively impact the manufacturing industry over the next decade. Today’s main limitation of 3D printing concerns production speed and productivity. JPB Système is exploring the capabilities of one 3D printing technology that, in my view, will revolutionise manufacturing.
This is called Metal Binder Jetting (MBJ), a high-precision 3D metal printing technology designed to print unique components in high volume and in a highly cost-effective way. As this technology supports special metals suitable for aerospace applications, such as titanium and stainless steel, it offers very promising opportunities. We’re aiming to install an MBJ printer in September 2019 and will start looking at prototype testing to grow our expertise so that we can then use it to proactively respond to customers’ needs.
Q) What opportunities and challenges do you see for companies like yours within the aerospace sector over the next ten years?
I feel the responsibility of connecting to the younger generation to make them aware of the changes that are happening in manufacturing. I’m sure we’re not alone in struggling to find skilled, motivated operators, who envisage a career in our industry. I therefore visit schools and universities, or arrange visits to our facility, in order to raise interest and inspire students about future opportunities in manufacturing.
For companies that want to succeed in this industry, I think developing and diversifying one’s product portfolio, is vital. This is certainly true for JPB Système and will continue to drive our evolution.
Underpinning this, I think automation and the implementation of Industry 4.0 manufacturing will be key. The market has never been as successful as it is today, and at the same time, engine manufacturers are now willing to have more suppliers, which has opened the door to new companies entering the industry.
The ongoing challenge is to innovate, remain increasingly proactive and offer a competitive price proposition. I believe that opportunities will be within easier reach for those companies that achieve this.