These are difficult times to be a small engineering supplier particularly if the industry into which you supply has troubles of its own. In Europe’s aerospace and defence industries, bound together by a complex tangle of alliances and co-operative ventures between OEMs, there are too many rivals and the suspicion of a far-from-optimised cost base.
Getting these giants to unravel into a neat entity with clearly defined business groups will not be easy. But as long as no progress is made by the OEMs, life for the thousands of smaller companies in the supply chain becomes increasingly difficult. Many aerospace suppliers selling to disparate manufacturers might be too small to be considered in large purchase orders once industrial integration gets serious. Far from being able to predict and plan alliances, aerospace suppliers are in a fog of uncertainty.
Which suppliers in Europe is it worth talking to? The big names are all obvious, but who will be buying from whom? Which domestic rivals could make suitable partners? And what countries will be the obvious targets for cross-channel alliances? Where will the major customers be? And if research and technology investments are to be made, which manufacturers would make the best long-term partners for the work, bearing in mind that restructuring of the industry in Europe could see a whole raft of projects dropped altogether or transferred to other companies or to other countries?
Advisers at the Department of Trade and Industry and elsewhere are urging suppliers to think long-term. But for the time being, even the aerospace manufacturers themselves seem to have difficulty getting to grips with the concept.