Key players in the international aerospace and defence industries are getting into gear for Avalon 2017, the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace and Defence Exposition. Carole Goldsmith spoke to the event’s organisers, as well as two of the Australian manufacturing companies that will be exhibiting.
Held biennially, Avalon 2017 will be held from 28 February to 5 March at Avalon Airport, near Geelong, in Victoria’s west. Avalon 2017’s CEO Ian Honnery expects that this year’s event will be even bigger than the last one in 2015.
“The pulling power of our event, both as an aviation spectacular and as a world-class trade show, remains extremely strong,” he says. “The fact that we continue to attract people from across the globe reflects our prestige and international standing.
“During the Airshow’s planning and operation, we work very closely with the RAAF, which deploys several hundred people and several aircraft to Avalon. This is a valuable training activity for the RAAF in the deployment and sustainment of a composite squadron. We also work together with the Victorian Government and statutory authorities including the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CAA), AirServices Australia, the Australian Federal Police, the Victorian Police and emergency services, plus with the City of Greater Geelong and Avalon Airport’s owner, the Linfox Group.”
Two years ago Avalon 2015 delivered a multi-million dollar economic and tourist bonanza to Victoria. The National Institute of Economic and Industry Research revealed that Victoria received a gross economic benefit of $146.2m from the 2015 Airshow. Of a total of 169,251 visitations during the six-day event, more than 38,000 were from interstate, and more than 13,000 were from overseas.
“Business deals worth more than $1.25bn were announced during and after the last Airshow,” Honnery advises. “Also 2,000 full-year equivalent employment positions were created.”
While the air displays are the big draw for the general public, it is in the exhibition that much of the real business is done. Avalon 2017 will open for trade visitors from 28 February to 5 March, with members of the public admitted as of 3 March. Honnery discusses some of the things that will be in store at the exhibition.
“We will be showcasing innovative businesses, general and business aviation, air traffic management, modern airports, RAAF’s Plan Jericho, community service aviation, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones. Also, we’ll have a new drone zone promoting drone technology to hobbyists as well as professional users.”
Among the exhibitors will be a significant number of Australian organisations. These include companies such as Aerosonde (the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) builder, now part of US giant Textron), Thales Australia, Marand Precision Engineering, Quickstep Technologies, Ronson Gears, CEA Technology, Mincham Aviation, BAE Systems Australia, Levett Engineering and Lovitt Technologies, many of which are doing a lot of advanced manufacturing work for US export customers. In addition, there will also be a number of universities and research centres such as Monash, UniNSW, UTS, Swinburne, RMIT and the Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC). Global exhibitors include Airbus, BAE Systems, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, GE, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, Thales, Embraer, Bombardier, SAFRAN and Dassault.
“Many of these companies already have quite substantial subsidiaries located in Australia,” Honnery adds proudly.
Alongside the event there are a total of 18 planned conferences. These include the Chief of Air Force symposium, on 27 February in Melbourne; and the 17th Australian International Aerospace Congress, organised by Engineers Australia and the Royal Aeronautical Society, in Melbourne on 27-28 February, then at Avalon Conference Centre on 1-2 March.
“Avalon 2017 is very much an international event,” says Honnery. “We take Australian industry to the world by bringing the world to Australia. The 2015 show played host to no less than 148 official delegations from 28 countries. We saw 34 air force chiefs, or their official representatives. That’s more than a major UK show like Farnborough would expect. We had a total attendance over the four industry-only trade days of more than 33,000. That’s the benchmark we’ve set ourselves for 2017.”
Levett Engineering – Showcasing at Avalon
South Australian manufacturer Levett Engineering is one of the aerospace and defence manufacturers that will be present at Avalon 2017. It will be exhibiting with the Lockheed Martin Pavillion, alongside other suppliers to the Lockheed Martin F35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Based in Elizabeth in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, the company has a long history of engineering precision components for the aerospace sector.
“When the Australian Government invested in the fifth-generation F-35 JSF project 14 years ago, the Levett Engineering management team became an active participant in this project,” says CEO and founder Paul Levett. “This decision has helped shape our company’s success and established it as a respected member of the elite group of organisations that comprise the Lockheed Martin F35 JSF manufacturing team.
“We supply a wide range of components to major Australian and global aerospace companies, with the ultimate end-user, being Lockheed Martin, for its F35 JSF production. The jets are produced at its Fort Worth Texas manufacturing facilities.”
Levett has grown extensively since Paul first set up a small engineering plant 28 years ago. He had already gained extensive experience in precision engineering prior to starting his business, having worked at several Department of Defence organisations, initially as a fitting and turning apprentice and later as a qualified engineer.
“After outgrowing three commercial premises, the company and its staff moved in 2004 to its current site, a 2,000sqm premises at Elizabeth,” he says. “Levett Engineering now employs 45 people, and we manufacture over 350 components.”
The advanced manufacturing plant in Elizabeth is quality system AS 9100 C (aerospace) accredited and ISO 9001 2008 compliant. The business is also ITAR (International Traffic and Arms Regulations) compliant as required by exporters and importers of defence-related products and services on the US Munitions List (USML).
Levett Engineering supplies a vast array of components, including: titanium, aluminium, stainless steel airframe components for Lockheed Martin; and aluminium, titanium, tungsten components and assemblies for BAE Systems. It produces super-alloy “hot end” jet engine parts for Pratt & Whitney; aluminium electronic housings for Northrup Grumman; aluminium and titanium electronic enclosures and brackets for Harris Corp; and aluminium electronic enclosures for Amphenol Corp. The company also supplies defence clients including BAE Systems’ global supply chain, the Department of Defence, and ASC, Australia’s largest defence shipbuilding organisation. It has been a certified defence-recognised supplier to the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force since 2007.
When asked how other Australian manufacturers can break into the international aerospace and defence industry, Paul recommends participation in the Global Supply Chain Program, which is now managed by the Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC). The CDIC, an initiative established under the Federal Government’s 2016 Defence Industry Policy Statement, is a collaboration between the Department of Defence and the Department of Innovation and Science.
According to the CDIC site, eligible Australian SMEs seeking to enter global value chains or to export their products and services will be provided with a comprehensive package of defence export advice, export development and promotion, supply chain facilitation and business development. This assistance will include (where eligible) access to defence trade missions and exhibitions overseas, export readiness training, and facilitated access to the defence Primes.
With Avalon 2017 looming, Levett is getting set for a year of ambitious expansion plans.
“In the next 12 months, we hope to expand and acquire a second factory nearby,” says Paul. “Our head office will remain here at Elizabeth.
“We employ talented people who are great individuals,” he adds proudly. “Our philosophy is based on trust, integrity, honesty and a genuine desire to build strategic partnerships with our customers and suppliers.”
Ronson Gears – Getting in gear
Another company making preparations for Avalon 2017 is Ronson Gears, which will be showcasing its products and services alongside around 16 other companies within the Victorian Government Pavillion. According to the company’s Sales and Marketing Manager, Gavin New, Avalon is a very good branding exercise with the excellent networking opportunities.
“The knowledge gained is invaluable,” says Gavin. “This is our third airshow at Avalon and it is very important for our company to be seen, whilst further developing the relationships made over the years.”
Ronson’s experience and technology plays a key role in supplying precision machined components, gears and assemblies to the aerospace and defence industries. Among its end customers are Primes such as Boeing Defence Systems, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
The company has certainly grown since engineer Ronald Charles New, Gavin’s grandfather, started the business in 1954 with just a lathe, a gear hobbing machine and a small workshop. Gavin explains that Ronald always wanted his sons in the business, so he called the company Ronson, after Ron and son. Gavin’s father Gordon is Ronson’s Managing Director and has been with the company since 1975. Today the company employs 32 staff at its factory in Highett, in Melbourne’s South East.
“We have plans in place to increase turnover dramatically in the next five years, which will result in further employment opportunities,” adds Gavin. “Every year we at least try and put on a new apprentice.”
With a passion for precision, the company has flourished and earned a reputation for innovation and excellence in manufacturing components, gears and assemblies. As well as the aerospace and defence industry, Ronson supplies the mining and rail industries, and other sectors such as construction, waste and agriculture. The company works to quality systems AS9100C and ISO 9001:2008 as required by the aerospace and defence industries.
“Currently our main aerospace and defence industry customers are BAE Systems, Marand Precision Engineering and Ferra Engineering,” says Gavin. “As well as the Primes and Tier 1 suppliers, we also supply gears to Martin Aircraft in New Zealand, the personal jetpack company. They initially came to us as we are the only dedicated Australian gear manufacturer with the AS9100C aerospace accreditation.
“We produce gears from 4mm in diameter for medical applications to 900mm for mining or rail. A typical aerospace gear is under 300mm and made of aerospace-grade stainless steel amongst other alloy steels. We do gearing for a few aerospace and defence suppliers that provide ground support applications to the JSF. This includes numerous gear types for the F35 JSF Engine Removal and Installation (R&I) Mobility Trailer for Marand Precision Engineering.”
At Ronson’s factory, a Mega Machine bandsaw is used to cut up steel into small gear blanks at the start the manufacturing process. The workshop also features a variety of CNC lathes and milling machinery, including brand names like Okuma and DMG MORI SEKI, as well as a Studer grinding machine, commissioned in 2015 to support its precision work in aerospace and defence. The company’s quality control centre includes gear measuring equipment from Wenzel.
“The lathes and mills machine the blanks and our high-end CNC gear cutting and gear grinding machines produce the tooth form,” Gavin explains. “For every gear manufacturing job we do, we measure every ‘first off’ on our gear measuring machine, and complete numerous other checks throughout the manufacturing process.”
Ronson is an active member of various international industry associations, including Eurotrans and the American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA). This has helped the company promote its brand and expertise globally. Gordon was also on the AGMA’s Board for many years.
“Being members of these bodies, and relationships with associate companies in Europe, UK, Japan, NZ and USA, gives Ronson a global focus and is paramount to our success,” says Gavin. “It has also alleviated a lot of risks in relation to machine purchases internationally. For the other part of our business (outside aerospace and defence), we export to Hong Kong, South America, USA and UK.”
Regarding the company’s future, Gavin says: “We are setting goals to increase the business by 50% in the next five years, and it will be tough as the Australian gear market is diminishing.
“Aerospace and defence will play a large role in our plans and our agents are currently targeting the UK for gearing opportunities in both the commercial and aerospace and defence sectors. We have recently signed a Memo of Understanding to provide gears to a UK machining company that supplies the aerospace and defence industries. “There will also be many international marketing opportunities for Ronson at Avalon 2017.”