Theirs may not be a household name exactly, but the LORD Corporation has a history long and proud enough to match its ambition.
The North Carolina-headquartered vibration-amelioration specialist, founded in 1924, is presently generating just shy of $1 billion (GBP580 million) in annual revenues across its three industrial markets – oil and gas; automotive, industrial and electronic assembly; and aerospace/defense – but has a strategic goal of topping $2 billion (GBP1.16 billion) in sales by 2024. And a significant proportion of that growth is set to come from increasing its aerospace business, particularly in Europe.
It's certainly an eye-catching aspiration, but how realistic is it? According to Rachid Bendali, LORD's sales and business-development director for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the company believes it can achieve significant gains by making itself as ubiquitous in the European aircraft marketplace as it is in the U.S.
"We've been present in the European market for decades, but maybe not at the level that a European company is present," he tells ShowNews. "What we've been seeing over the last few years is that a lot of the innovation and many of the early technology adopters are in the European aerospace industry. We thrive on introducing new and disruptive technologies, so we feel it's a match made in heaven."
To this end, LORD (Chalet A33) established a European administrative and technology center in Geneva in 2009. "It's proven to be a very judicious move for us," Bendali says, "and one that's already been bearing fruit. We see the potential to triple our sales in the aerospace industry in the next 10 years, and a significant part of that will come from Europe."
The company's growth strategy is based on two principles: be first-to-market with innovative technologies, and acquire companies with market-leading products. Both approaches are evident in the company's current aviation product line.
An example of LORD's novel technologies is its lightning-strike protection solution for composite airframes. The protection is offered through a coating, which can be applied as a film or a spray, either during component manufacture or following aircraft assembly. Current methods involve extensive use of copper foil, which adds weight and is difficult to repair. LORD's new approach, in which silver in the coating conducts electrical current, is therefore of considerable interest.
"A large aircraft manufacturer, based in the Northwest U.S., wanted first right of refusal on this product," Bendali says. "They said, ‘If we put it on our aircraft, you can't put it on anybody else's aircraft.’ Our business model does not allow for us to make such a commitment to just one manufacturer. Our intellectual property and technology rights are our most prized possessions, and we will fight for them in the trenches. We cannot afford to give them away. So, that did slow us down with that manufacturer, but we'll catch up."
A launch customer for the technology will be announced shortly, possibly during Farnborough.
LORD's first contract was providing dampers for air compressors on General Electric trolley cars in the 1920s, and vibration-control systems remain at the heart of what the company is about. Its AVCS – Active Vibration Control System – is a combination of sensors, controllers and actuators that, when installed in helicopter cabins, cancels out vibration from the rotor by generating an opposing waveform. Vibration reduction can be achieved for the entire cabin or focused on a single seat, depending on the placement of the actuators.
"There's not a single helicopter manufacturer in the world that isn't either considering it or doesn't currently have it flying on their aircraft," says Bendali.
The company's two major acquisitions in the past two years have been in related areas. Vermont-based Microstrain, which was bought in 2012, and Stellar Technologies, the SpaceX supplier, acquired earlier this year, are both sensor companies.
"We see a strong need in the market to offer better and more sensing products, systems and services," Bendali explains. "So we're making it a strategic goal for us to acquire companies in that field. There are internal factors: We constantly need to be rejuvenating our technologies and product offerings. But there are external ones too, because the supply chain is so fragmented that there's a strong desire to consolidate it and make it financially more viable for the large airframers and aircraft manufacturers. We want to play a role in that, so we'll focus on M&A going forward: We're targeting the low- to mid-cap segment and we are going to be making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars."