Competition from low cost economies is driving Bombardier to add ever more diverse strings to its bow as the Northern Ireland manufacturer looks to expand the business base and prove its environmental credentials.
Headquartered at Belfast City airport, but also present at several sites throughout the Province, Bombardier is now responsible for an impressive 10% of Northern Ireland”s manufacturing exports as the company prepares to celebrate its centenary in 2008.
Hosting a media briefing today (30 April) in Belfast and ahead of the upcoming Paris Air Show, Bombardier vice president and general manager, Michael Ryan, was at pains to stress what he viewed as the manufacturer”s role as a privatisation success story in Northern Ireland, compared to other production sectors.
Speaking to journalists just a few hundred yards from where the Titanic was built and next to Bombardier”s cavernous hangars, Ryan said: ”As the largest manufacturing site [in Northern Ireland] we come under the microscope and that is fair enough.
”There has been a lot of discussion in the UK and Europe concerning the environment for example, and we have been significantly addressing our impact on that here in Belfast. We are high users of energy and part of our drive has been to significantly reduce that cost.”
And as well as local, green concerns, Ryan also highlighted operators” natural tendency to require ever-lighter machines in a bid to strip out costs, particularly as new composites ” a Bombardier speciality ” come on stream.
”We try to get the lightest possible aircraft into the air,” said Ryan, adding: ”We are addressing concerns from the operators and if for example, we reduce the drag on a Nacelle, we drive down fuel consumption and of course, increase the competitiveness of the aircraft. Reduced weight through composites burns less fuel.”
Ryan also emphasised that given Bombardier”s existence on the periphery of the UK in Europe, with little access to natural resources, the company had to branch out into other technical areas as well as collaborate with established producers such as Rolls-Royce, GKN and BAe Systems.
This diversification also includes a drive for the after-market and using more suppliers in emerging economies such as Mexico and China, as well as applying lean manufacturing techniques.
One further point that Ryan was keen to stress was how much Bombardier integrated itself into the local community, with all the unique challenges that community presented.
Belfast”s historical division across the religious divide has made for a tricky employment environment, but Bombardier is running an apprentice programme that aims to recruit between both communities and amongst younger people, who might not have expected to work in such a high technology field.
Equally challenging is the fact that Bombardier sells everything in US dollars, which has resulted in a 15% cost defect in a year, as the dollar soars against sterling.