VOL. 5 March ISSUE YEAR 2004


in Vol. 5 - March Issue - Year 2004
Sonaca has purchased NMF Canada and NMF America!
Michel Milecan, President of Sonaca NMF Canada

Michel Milecan, President of Sonaca NMF Canada

Interview with Michel Milecan, the President of the new Sonaca NMF Canada

When Metal Finishing News received the industry announcement that this significant purchase has taken place, we tried our very best to get the opportunity to talk to and interview Michel Milecan, the President of the new Sonaca NMF Canada. And knowing that this is probably an exceptionally busy time for this company, Metal Finishing News appreciates that Michel Milecan took the time out of his busy schedule.

(?) MFN: Who is Sonaca?

(!) M.M.: Sonaca is a Belgium based company specializing in the design and manufacturing of wing leading edges and other related aerospace structures. Our expertise is based on the chemical milling and stretch forming processes of large skin panels. The group has approximately 2000 people based in Gosselies,  Belgium, in Sao Jose Dos Campos,  Brazil, and now with our two new acquisitions, one  in Montreal, Canada and the other in Wichita, Kansas, USA previously named NMF  Canada and NMF America.
Sonaca SA in Belgium has in its workforce over 250 design and manufacturing engineers to support its risk sharing programs namely for all the Embraer 135-145, 170-195 aircraft leading edge programs, for all the Airbus leading edge programs and many other aircraft products. Sonaca also provides Embraer and Airbus with fuselage sections and panels for their respective aircraft range. Recently, Sonaca became a risk-sharing partner of Dassault Aviation for its latest Falcon aircraft named “Seven X”.

(?) MFN: Why purchase NMF Canada and America and how does it complement the Sonaca growth strategy?

(!) M.M.: There are many reasons why Sonaca wanted to purchase NMF Canada and NMF America. First, NMF is a major player worldwide in wing skin manufacturing, therefore, opportunities for this kind of acquisition are not available too often. NMF was going through some difficult times since the corporate jet business went down 2 years ago. Remember that the corporate jet business represented 50% of NMF sales and when the market plummeted, it was left with intensive capital investments without the work to support it. Even if the regional aircraft market stayed nearly steady.
NMF was then in dire need of an international scale partner to continue supporting its customers and also ensure that it would be capable of supporting its future development and expanding the company to its full potential.
Sonaca on the other hand was looking to enter the North American market. Of course there is always the green field approach where you start from scratch and develop a market, and many options were available where Sonaca could have inserted itself, but many things made NMF more  interesting,
Firstly, NMF is a company like Sonaca with a niche technology that would complement its manufacturing capability by having Sonaca NMF Canada (the new name given to NMF Canada) manufacture the wing skins and Sonaca SA, Belgium could manufacture the leading edge as it actually does on many common line products.
Secondly, the possibility to have a manufacturing site directly beside the third largest airplane manufacturer in the world is certainly an important asset and the strong bonds that tie NMF and Bombardier were certainly major factors in the decision.
Thirdly, having a production site in the United States in Wichita Kansas beside the Lear Jet, Raytheon, Cessna, Boeing and many other aerospace manufacturers and suppliers was certainly an added bonus for the Sonaca group that enabled Sonaca with a single transaction to acquire two world class manufacturing sites and ensure an immediate presence in these markets.
Fourthly, Sonaca has strategically positioned itself to increase its value added share in the Bombardier product with its expertise in design and manufacturing of leading edges where  Bombardier could  most probably gain from Sonaca’s expertise in this field with many other aerospace companies  maybe for the actual Bombardier programs and certainly for  future developments.
Finally, Sonaca being  mainly a French language company, positively benefited from being in a French environment in North America as Montreal would provide a site where documentation and communication could be used in their native form.

(?) MFN: How do you see Sonaca Belgium and Sonaca NMF Canada developing the wing skin manufacturing technology?

(!) M.M.: Wing skin manufacturing technology is a very specialized and hard to find specialty. There are  very few companies in the world that possess such technology from the development phase to assembly line installation support at the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer). Sonaca NMF Canada or SNC in short, has all these capabilities in house to support any wing skin program development.
This includes certification of the process, trial testing of new concepts, design manufacturability support, flat pattern support from the 3D solid model, NC programming, NC machining, post machining conventional inspection, penetrant inspection, saturation shot peening, peen forming, component pre-fit and net-trimming operations, anodizing, painting and finally, assembly of the components including all brackets and any required fitting and hardware that can be installed prior to the wing box assembly portion commonly known as the benching operations.
Sonaca Belgium will bring another dimension to this already impressive list of available processes and services by providing a design engineering capability, possible partnership participation in new or existing programs, and an extensive complex assembly support that will enable SNC to become a true tier one supplier by integrating all these processes and services to compete on the world market and eventually even position itself to design and manufacture the wings and leading edge of some new programs.

(?) MFN: How do you see the future of SNC in the shot peening and peen forming Field?

(!) M.M.: SNC has and will continue to be very active in the saturation shot peening and peen forming community to continue developing this field of specialty and participate in its development. It is crucial for SNC to continue supporting an activity like FORMAX since it has brought better understanding to this very specialized nonetheless very important field for today’s aircraft component mechanical performance and durability.
Peen forming is a very unique sector where a lot of work remains to be done and because of the new alloys and manufacturing processes being developed, that are always pushing at the fore of manufacturability , it is now demanding better process control as well as repeatability. This is because cost reduction and process control are the keys that will enable a process to survive these challenging engineering demands brought about by new certification types and regulations such as the damage tolerance and multi site damage tolerance requirements that stipulate that all processes be scientifically proven and strictly controlled.
It is a niche technology developed by many years of learning to work with different metallic alloys and also working on as many as 20 different wing designs that has enabled SNC to develop and gain this kind of expertise.
Peen forming is not a “Black Art” since with today’s technologies, it is very repetitive and the effects on the material substrata are understood and controlled. In fact it is the easiest and cheapest way to form large panels whether it be for wing skins or any structural or non-structural component. In some cases, mostly as in integral stringer component, it is the only acceptable manufacturing process due to material thickness stability and material yield property.

(?) MFN: How much has Sonaca Invested in SNC?

(!) M.M.: Sonaca has first invested at the closing of the transaction a total of 41 million Canadian dollars. Of course, new developments will require  additional efforts  to start new programs, like the Gulfstream 150 wing panels for instance, but Sonaca has both the manpower and financial strength to cope with such endeavors.
We are always working to develop the next generation of FORMAX peen forming controls and processes. We at SNC are committed to the peen forming development and to its success. We also very much appreciate the MFN publication and team that is providing great visibility to  niche companies and technologies and is doing a great job at promoting knowledge exchange between people in the same field.
Our specialized aerospace community will only survive if we learn to trust each other and share successes and failures so that we can all grow and develop this extraordinary field that we are in. Saturation shot peening; peen forming and the other surface treatment processes are essential to the safety and longevity of the plane we fly in. By working together toward process control improvement and understanding of its effect on the material substrate, we all make our most convenient international transportation system safer and cheaper for the future generations of business and world traveler.

We at MFN would like to thank Michel Milecan for this interview.

For Information:
Michel Milecan, President
Sonaca NMF Canada
13075 Brault, Mirabel, Québec
Canada J7J-1P3
E-Mail: michel.milecan@sonacanmf.com