Plansee Tungsten Alloys continues its diversification
An expert master in the art of producing tungsten alloys for defense purpose, the Saint-Pierre-en-Faucigny company is now working in the aeronautics or watchmaking sectors.
Plansee Tungsten Alloys – whose commercial name is Cime Bocuze – is a fine example of successful diversification. Owned 66% by the Austrian group Plansee together with Nexter (former Giat Industries) since 1999, the company moved from a business volume concentrated in the defense sector, to other markets, that have generated a new balance. Admittedly, it has mastered the powder metallurgy processes for the manufacture of heavy alloys, with a tungsten base.
The company belongs to the Plansee High-Performance Materials division. It is integrated into the Tungsten Heavy Alloys Business Unit. "From Saint-Pierre-en-Faucigny, we ship to 40 countries on all continents", explained Joël Courant, its general manager. An activity which is 75% export oriented.
"Our turnover fluctuates between €21 and €26 million depending on the projects that we carry out on behalf of French and foreign customers, particularly in aeronautics and defense. " After having beaten the turnover record in 2015 (€26 million), the company is anticipating another performance in 2019 (at least €28 million expected for the financial year closing on February 28, 2020).
a full order book
"Our income orders are increasing substantially. Currently, the defense sector is the one driving our business, but this can change from year to year. Whence the necessity to remain flexible, to adapt to demand and being capable of manufacturing small quantities for aeronautics as well as thousands of parts for other sectors!".
On a 4-hectare site, Plansee has a covered area of 6000 m2, 600 of which are being built for new machines. The company delivers an average of 120 tonnes of products per year. Its basic business ranges from powder metallurgy to machining parts. All through their preparation it analyses materials, forging, sintering, heat treatment (4 furnaces) as well as metal shaping (machining) and, finally, quality assurance with destructive and non-destructive control. The latter is conducted by means of two tridimensional machines, a "penetration testing" chain and ultrasound methods for inspecting aeronautic parts (aircraft and helicopter complying with qualification EN 9100). Finally, the company has been certified in accordance with standard ISO 14001 and emphasizes to its customers that its products may be entirely recycled.
In flight and in orbit
"Nowadays we generate 30% of turnover in the aeronautics sector" explained Joël Courant. We produce balancing weights for aircraft propellers and for the RATs (Ram Air Turbine) – a turbine which enables an aircraft to land even without an engine - aircraft leading wing edges, vibration absorbers. Mainly for the American group UTC that certified Plansee Tungsten Alloys ‘Gold’ Supplier in August 2017, but also for Snecma, Airbus, Stelia, Boeing, Dassault, etc. Still in this field, Plansee also delivers balancing weights for helicopters. Some of its parts for the space sector are also in orbit!
Defense is still its main market (40% of sales). On behalf of major international contractors, the company manufactures indenters which are intended for kinetic energy ammunition. In addition, 10% of its activity is for the Swiss watchmakers for which it makes oscillating weights (rotors) for watches.
Other applications are for the automotive sector: Plansee produces crankshaft balancing weights for Formula 1 and rally cars. The company is also active in anti-radiation protection for the medical, nuclear and oil exploration sectors. Since 1999, it has undertaken a diversification strategy with regard to defense and developed its product portfolio and customers on a worldwide scale.
fighting throw innovation
"We are fighting by means of innovation, the development of applied research and by increasing our R&D team". It is made up of four researchers, one person with a doctorate and three with master's degrees in metallurgy as well as three laboratory technicians. Research and development is carried out in the workshops. "The results are directly implemented on the production tools to be operational faster and to reduce the market launch time".
A context in which the Mont Blanc Excellence Industries certification plays its role to the full. "It is a very interesting diagnosis of our activity and our strategy thanks to which we have, for example, decided to apply for the ISO 14 001 certification, both for customers and for third parties. We are doing a lot of work internally on human resources, and we have set up an attractive remuneration system to encourage loyalty among the personnel", concluded Joël Courant who also draws on local resources (Alpège, CFAI, etc.) to recruit skills.
Françoise LAFUMA, journalist
Legend: dimensional control
Legend: sintering furnace