Boeing sets suitable targets for the aviation industry
Salil Gupte, president, Boeing India, and VP, Boeing International, on how the company is firing on several cylinders to meet global demand, and change the skyscape of the aerospace industry
Boeing may be in the news for several reasons. But just like any conglomerate it believes that any flaws are portals of discovery. Globally, Boeing is fighting battles on several fronts. But the company knows and realises that it's these things that make them who they are.
It is in the midst of all this that Salil Gupte took over as president, Boeing India, and VP, Boeing International. But he has no misgivings.
When you have been in the business for 100 years and more, there's a mission-readiness and a strong direction. The aviation bellwether has been doing just that.
Boeing has been a strong partner to India for more than 75 years. Gupte says, "Our existence in India is to support the Indian government, drive progress for the country and invest in manifold projects that ensure innovation, skilling, production, technology and supply chain. Most of these are already implemented on ground and we only look at enhancing them further."
He believes that any activity from India should reflect the global agenda and while the company has been doing all that and more, Gupte says it is with the intent of creating a world-class ecosystem. "India has plenty of potential. There's a need to encourage and ensure that the supply chain here flourishes by seeking out the best value the region can offer, which would also translate into an innovation to our global connect. For us Make in India is not just a directive because the government wants it, but because it's good for our business and our global ecosystem and capabilities," he added.
He is well prepared for the job. Prior to his current role, Gupte was VP of Boeing Capital Corporation and has also executed supply chain which meant working closely with customers. Having played a vital role in completing joint venture and acquisitions, he has learnt enough to understand what and how to deliver according to expectations. His current position demands that he advance the development and execution of Boeing's strategy in India, integrate business activities across company's commercial airplanes, Boeing defence, space and security, its global services, and lead the growth and productivity initiatives in India, according to the release issued by the company at the time of his appointment.
In India, Boeing's constant pursuit is finding quality suppliers who offer cost-competitive solutions, and when it finds them, the company cultivates and retains them for years to come. Recently, Hindustan Aeronautics, a long time supplier to Boeing, celebrated a milestone with the delivery of the 150th gun bay door for the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet is a twin-engine supersonic all-weather, carrier-capable multi-role combat jet delivering cutting-edge, next-generation multi-role strike fighter capability. The company has offered to build a 21st century aerospace ecosystem in India for manufacturing the F/A-18 Super Hornet with Indian partners, HAL and Mahindra Defence Systems (MDS).
According to Gupte, "Setting up a manufacturing and supply chain footprint in the country one operates helps. It helps us leverage the best engineering aptitude and if that talent dovetails into our global competitive manufacturing and supply base, makes us more competitive. Our local authorities help us to participate in prospective markets opportunities for business as well."
Overall, Gupte adds that it prefers to emphasise on creating a pool of gold standard suppliers in India. Having found tremendous potential, the company is choosing its suppliers carefully who can help them meet global targets.
One of its prominent supplier in India is the Tata group company, TAL Manufacturing Solutions, with who it has set up a state-of-the-art production partnership. The composite floor beams for all the Dreamliner airplane variants are made by TAL at Meyhan in Nagpur and so far it has delivered 25,000 floor beams to Boeing.
There's a sense of methodical consideration in how Boeing seeks out suppliers, especially the smaller ones. Gupte says, "We realise that in the long run there will be new challenges to meet. India has a host of SMEs and MSMEs that we are constantly searching and encouraging. We also insist that they prepare themselves to take on bigger roles and, on our part, we ready them to take on challenges. Globally, OEMs look for suppliers for the long term and there are some minimum requirements they need to fulfil. It would help if the government could aid the MSMEs in generating domestic opportunities as that would help scale up business opportunities for them."
Headquartered in Delhi, Boeing’s India operations include field service offices in Mumbai, Hindan, Rajali and New Delhi, a joint venture with Tata in Hyderabad to manufacture fuselages for the Apache helicopters and a Boeing India Engineering & Technology Centre (BIETC) in Bengaluru and Chennai.
Lending a helping hand
Having a robust supply chain with an equally hearty investment policy helps its to continue with its innovation, production capacity, developing skills and skilling centres, which are different than any other. The business of aerospace and defence calls for engineering expertise, attention to detail, a heightened awareness of safety issues and project and time management skills. It is through such benchmarks that the company has created thousands of jobs and hundreds of suppliers who cater to the global facility.
Gupte says, "The entire system of Boeing India hinges on creating international quality standards and customisation with creativity and value addition. Over the years, our supply chain has greatly benefitted from our investment and global industrial manufacturing and production excellence. That is because we spend time and effort to make sure that our suppliers have the capability, and also access to our production quality that are the hallmarks of a global company."
So far Boeing's sourcing from India stands at $1 billion with over 160 existing industrial partners. Most of this is because it quadrupled its sourcing last two years. Training programmes have also become second nature to the aerospace manufacturer. Considering that its 160 suppliers contribute or provide parts and assemblies covering aerostructures, wire harness, composites, forgings, avionics mission systems, and ground support equipment for some of Boeing’s most advanced defence platforms, there is a need for intensive and vocational training.
The company is also a strong proponent of the government's Make in India programme and this means association with all aspects of it. It has partnered with the National Skill Development Corporation India (NSDC) to provide training to Indian students. In 2016, it joined hands with Tata Advanced Materials (TAML) and the Nettur Technical Training Foundation (NTTF) for a skill development programme for training frontline workers. The programme was rolled out under the Centre's skill development initiative, National Employability Enhancement Mission (NEEM). The programme aims to provide trainees with quality technical education while enabling them to earn a living.
Boeing-funded curriculums and initiatives have already been launched along with relevant aerospace partners such as Rossell Techsys, TAML, Jaivel and Lakshmi Machine Works.
Similarly, it has also partnered with Ministry of Skills Development and Ministry of Defense to scale its vocational training programme.
Besides this, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and Boeing have signed an agreement to create an air traffic management plan to help improve the efficiency of national aircraft operations. Under the technical assistance agreement, the partners will collectively develop a strategy based on the best global and local practices. The plan will support optimal use of airspace capacity, boost communications and invest in navigation, surveillance and air traffic management system in India. In the agreement, Boeing will analyse current technologies and processes to identify efficiency improvements that can be implemented while ensuring a safe airspace system.
Live and learn
In all this, one aspect that concerns all stakeholders involved in the aerospace and defence industry is safety. Gupte says, "It's our ability to adhere to stringent standards that reflects on the credibility of our production system. Today's modern times demand that we deploy lean, industrial engineering, automation and adopt new technologies in our production system with a strong focus on safety. Accordingly, we have scaled up our suppliers to maintain the same. It offers uniformity across products and safeguards our reputation."
Gupte also believes that new perspectives in manufacturing can only come through students and entrepreneurs who bring talent and investment into the business. It has designed Boeing University Innovation Leadership Development Programme (BUILD) a unique aerospace innovation, leadership and talent development programme exclusively for them. "We are committed to cultivating innovation and skill development in India. We believe that a close partnership with India's academia and growing entrepreneurial ecosystem has the potential to re-imagine the future of aerospace for the world. The start-up ecosystem has never been more vibrant than now. We offer learning opportunities, provide learning resources and subject matter experts mentor these youngsters through the learning programme. The new generation has some disruptive ideas and it would be an experience learning from them," says Gupte.
It has partnered with seven incubators including IIT-Delhi, IIT-Gandhinagar, IIT-Bombay, IIT-Madras, IISc-Bangalore, T-Hub Hyderabad and KIIT Bhubaneshwar to select finalists for the BUILD boot camps.
Over the years, Boeing has invested in the Indian aerospace sector through programmes like the HorizonX India Innovation Challenge, and the Accelerated Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Apprenticeship.
Applicants for HorizonX India Innovation Challenge can submit their ideas in the field of aerospace, autonomous vehicles, advanced manufacturing, augmented and virtual reality, analytics (artificial intelligence and machine learning), materials, robotics and Internet of things.
Gupte has a few expectations from the Indian government. According to him, "We would be content if the government promoted the small-scale industries and steer India proactively towards a sense of entrepreneurship, as Boeing India has. If OEMs are rewarded for supporting Make in India and Skill India proactively, that will encourage more OEMs to bring in manufacturing work into the country, augmenting the supply chain, and providing multipliers for capital investments and development that need support for the aerospace ecosystem. Channelise their energies and set up more education centres to test new innovations and technologies."
Boeing is doing several things right. The reason Gupte is constantly on the move. He knows the aerospace industry holds good promise and the emergence of new technologies, innovative people, and the next generation holds plenty of promise.