By any standards, landing gear manufacturer Héroux-Devtek is a major world player. Based in Longueuil, Quebec across from the island of Montreal, the company that began in 1942 as Héroux Machine Parts specialising in aviation, now makes landing gear for the Boeing 777/777X.
And that’s not all. Héroux-Devtek has recently been selected to jointly design and develop the landing gear for South Korea’s new KF-X jet fighter. Meanwhile, the company has already designed and developed the landing gear for BAE Systems’ Hawk advanced jet trainer, Sweden’s new Gripen E jet fighter, the Leonardo (formerly AgustaWestland) AW609 Tiltrotor helicopter, the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion military helicopter, the Embraer Legacy 450/500 business jet, plus landing gear door uplocks for Lockheed Martin’s F-35. It also provides landing gear systems and components for the Embraer KC-390 twin jet military transport, Lockheed Martin’s C-130J, and Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook helicopter among others. All of this adds to an extensive aftermarket spare part business, as well as several decades of high-quality MRO services on numerous aircraft.
Over the years, Héroux-Devtek’s manufacturing plant in Longueuil has been supplemented by facilities in nearby Laval and St-Hubert as well as plants in Kitchener, Cambridge and Toronto, Ontario. Then there’s Héroux-Devtek’s facilities in Springfield and Strongsville, Ohio; Wichita, Kansas and Everett, Washington –across the parking lot from Boeing. Add in Héroux-Devtek’s UK facilities in Bolton, Nottingham, and Runcorn, and this company is clearly doing something right to account for this success.
So how has Héroux-Devtek managed to win so many major contracts? The biggest to date being the provision of 100 shipsets of landing gear for the Boeing 777/777X, plus parts that Boeing can sell on the aftermarket. After all, the contract - which runs from 2017 to 2024 with an option for Boeing to extend it to 2028 - will increasingly contribute many millions of dollars to the company’s revenue growth going forward.
“I guess we were at the right place at the right time,” begins Héroux-Devtek’s vice-president/COO of landing gear, Martin Brassard. “If Héroux-Devtek’s success is fundamentally linked to anything, it is to our belief in pleasing the customer first and foremost. Whatever the project, no matter how big or how small, Héroux-Devtek looks for practical, doable technical solutions for our customers at competitive prices.”
The biggest challenge
Among Héroux-Devtek’s many major contracts, the company’s deal with Boeing for 777/777X landing gear is the most challenging. After all, with the maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of the Boeing 777-300ER logging in at 775,500lbs, each massive Bridgestone 52x21.0R22 tire on the aircraft’s two six-wheel bogies must hold up a lot of weight. It’s a good thing that each main gear tyre is rated to carry 66,500lbs, while the 777/777X’s pair of 43x17.5R17 nose wheel tires can carry 44,500lbs apiece. The main landing gear itself stands at 20ft tall.
The fact that Héroux-Devtek was hired by Boeing to provide the 777/777X landing gear, at a price that makes it worthwhile for Boeing to do so rather than expand its own facilities to meet projected demand, says a lot about Héroux-Devtek’s design and production efficiencies. Still, preparing to fulfil the contract wasn’t cheap.
“We had to invest approximately $105 million to build three new facilities, plus expand our capabilities at our existing plants,” continues Brassard. “This included the purchase and installation of 22 large specialised pieces of manufacturing equipment to build the 777/777X gear’s components, plus a brand-new processing and paint shop.”
The Boeing landing gear contract also required Héroux-Devtek to build a final assembly plant (one of the three that Brassard mentions) in Everett, Washington, backing onto the same parking lot as Boeing’s 777/777X factory.
“The landing gear for this aircraft is simply too big to ship assembled, let alone to haul it under bridges and other low-hanging obstacles,” he explains. “We literally put each complete gear unit together at our Everett facility, and then it is trucked across the parking lot to Boeing; with no bridges to worry about.”
As the biggest deal in Héroux-Devtek’s 75-year history, the Boeing 777/777X contract can seriously affect the company’s fortunes due not only to its scope, but also the contract’s high visibility in the aircraft industry.
“There’s no option for failure,” says Brassard. “We simply must give Boeing what they have contracted for, on time and on budget.”
With so much at stake, one could understand any supplier wanting to keep their head down when problems arise. But to its credit, Héroux-Devtek has committed to flagging any issues to Boeing as soon as they occur, and keeping the OEM informed through regular ‘executive program review meetings’.
“Our goal is to be as transparent with all of our customers as possible,” says Brassard. “As uncomfortable as this can be for any supplier, highlighting issues quickly makes it easier for us to solve them – because we can get Boeing’s insights and expertise on the issue as well as our own. And yes, there have been such problems to date, but collectively we have addressed them, and the production of the 777/777X landing gear are on schedule.”
Busy making progress
At the time of writing, Héroux-Devtek had begun rolling 777/777X landing gear across its Everett parking lot to the Boeing factory. In fact, the first set of landing gear were delivered to Boeing on July 12, 2016.
“Delivering the first landing gear set to Boeing is the testimony that we can successfully produce complex and large landing gear systems,” stated Gilles Labbé, president and CEO of Héroux-Devtek. “We are now at full speed in executing the largest contract in our history.”
For Brassard, this success aligns with Héroux-Devtek’s commitment in giving the customers what they want, and this is all made possible by the company’s investment in modern manufacturing equipment, Lean manufacturing procedures, and a highly-skilled workforce.
“We also have a very competent, committed and seasoned management team that know this industry inside out; that’s why we’ve been able to take on the 777/777X, F-35, and so many other projects,” he concludes. “These assets allow us to keep our promises to our customers, which is good business for us and for them. That’s how and why Héroux-Devtek grew from a small, Montreal-area machine shop to an international corporation serving the world’s major aircraft manufacturers.”