At Electroimpact, the company he founded and heads, Peter Zieve makes big robotic tools, like the Flex Track riveting machines that Boeing uses on the 777.
Zieve just signed a $78 million contact with Xian Aircraft Co. for tooling for the C919 that is the starting point for Comac’s drive to break the Airbus-Boeing duopoly in single-aisle transports. The tools, which he jokes “poke holes and fill them,” will be used to assemble flaps, ailerons and other parts of the 919’s wing.
This isn’t Electroimpact’s first contract in China: he has filled an $8.6 million machine for tooling for the ARJ21 and is in the process of filling another for $3.5 million.
But the new order ranks among the largest Electroimpact has received and is unusual for three reasons.
First, XAC did not insist on the usual “don’t discuss this” clause that Zieve is accustomed to with customers like Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier.
Second, it is a big contact. Electroimpact, which is headquartered in Mukilteo, Wash., near Boeing’s Everett widebody factory, has won similar sized awards previously. But they are from companies that want nothing said about them.
Third, the Chinese insisted that everything he delivers be “Made in the USA.” There’s a lot of heavy welding work needed in Electroimpact’s tools so Zieve assumed he’d do it in China to save on shipping. "Nothing doing," the Chinese insisted."We’ll pay the extra freight costs."
It took exactly a year to negotiate the contract, which was just signed. Zieve has two years to deliver. To meet that schedule Electroimpact’s UK subsidiary will provide 20% of the components. Does that matter? "No," the Chinese answered. "Just so long as there are no 'Made in China' tags on anything."
XAC offered no explanation for why it does not want Chinese companies used. Zieve speculates that perhaps XAC thinks it will be easier to certify the C919 if its tooling is Western-made.