Spirit AeroSystems has come a long way in its 10-year history, continuing a pattern of steady growth while meeting production rate increases of major customers, Boeing and Airbus.

“What strikes you today is the size, portfolio and the number of products of this company,” said Spirit president and CEO Larry Lawson proudly.

There are noteworthy differences between the Wichita, Kansas-based Spirit of old and the multi-part behemoth today, said Lawson. It has gone from building 28 aircraft structures per month to 120. Employment has risen from 8,000 to over 15,000 companywide in a decade. And backlog has gone from USD9 billion to USD46 billion at the end of first quarter 2015, driven mainly by strong demand for commercial airliners.

In addition to its Wichita and Chanute facilities in Kansas, Spirit has locations in Kinston, North Carolina; Tulsa and McAlester, Oklahoma; Prestwick, Scotland; Preston, England; Subang, Malaysia, and Saint-Nazaire, France.

Spirit also provides aftermarket support services and MRO work in North American Europe and Asia.

“From a product standpoint, we went from being a producer of metal airplanes to also one of the better manufacturers of large scale composite structures,” Lawson says.

On the portfolio side, Spirit added more commercial, defense and business/general aviation work. Its main competitors are Vought Aircraft Industries, UTC Aerospace Systems, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Alenia.

During a recent interview with ShowNews Lawson pumped up a company that is arguably the world’s largest first-tier designer and manufacturer of major airframe structures. “What is unique about us is that we are a valued added supplier, not a build-to-print house,” said Lawson. “We engineer the products we manufacturer.”

Spirit builds the entire fuselage, wing, and pylon and nacelle parts for the Boeing 737. It has delivered more than 8,000 737 fuselages, including those for the 737 Classic and 737 NG. The company will provide the same work for 737 MAX, with first delivery scheduled for the third quarter of 2017.

Spirit also provides wing parts for the Airbus A320 and center fuselage and wing-box on the A350. It makes floor beams for the Boeing 777, wing and fuselage components for the 747, and pylons for the Mitsubishi Regional Jet and the Bombardier CSeries.

Lawson said that Spirit is meeting the rate increase demands by the OEMs and has no immediate plans to buy or lease additional infrastructure, although the company is investing in automation as an efficiency move.

Work scope looks like this: Spirit produces 42 737 fuselages and other parts per month, expanding to 52 by 2018. Aerostructure production on the A320 is 42 per month presently, increasing to 50 per month by 2017. For the A350, Spirit will produce 5 structures per month by the end of 2015, 10 a month by the end of 2018.

Spirit is expanding its military business. The partnership with Bell Helicopter to produce the fuselage on the V-280 Valor program should bode well for the company and lead to additional work, said Lawson. Bell and Lockheed Martin are partnering on the V-280 program, the third-generation tiltrotor which the US Army has selected for the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) Technology Demonstrator (TD) phase of the future vertical lift program.

Spirit also provides key parts on the Sikorsky CH-53K, Boeing P-8A Poseidon and KC-46A tanker.

The company’s growth has been steady and modest, but there have been a few missteps. In late 2014, Spirit severed its wing-making contract with Gulfstream and transferred G650 and G280 wing work at its Tulsa, Oklahoma facility to the Triumph Group.

Lawson gave one overriding reason for that decision. “The business cycles for producing business jets versus the longer commercial cycles allowed for commercial aerostructures made it difficult to make money. The investments required to generate good returns is challenging with shorter cycle times to produce the product.” As part of the deal, Spirit paid Triumph $150 million to cover transfer and other costs.

Spirit was once part of Boeing and the biggest challenge it faced early on was transitioning from cost center to an independent business, according to one analyst.

“But they seem to have turned a corner on pricing correctly, even if that means less business in the future,” said Richard Aboulafia, VP, analysis, The Teal Group.