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2022 Q2 Newsletter Interview Philippe Garnier Safran Landing Systems


One on One: Discussion with a Global Industry Champion: Safran Landing Systems Kentucky

Each quarter we sit down with industry executives and thought leaders to discuss the trends, challenges, and best practices that are transforming their businesses.

Today, we are with Philippe Garnier, CEO and GM of Safran Landing Systems Kentucky. 

Philippe, can you please introduce yourself and your company Safran Landing Systems?                        

I joined the company, which at the time was called Messier Hispano Bugatti, in 1987 right after completing my university and my military duty in the French army.  I started as a quality engineer and then became a supplier quality engineer specialized in materials and processes.  This was the beginning of carbon brakes.  Seven years later, I moved to the technical department where I became project manager in charge of military, helicopters, and business jets brakes.  I was a part of the team who led the RFP and won a major US Military contract for the Boeing C17, unexpected for a French company at that time, and which changed the destiny of Safran Landing Systems. 

I then was offered the great opportunity to become the quality manager for the brand-new carbon plant established in Walton KY in 1998 where I enjoyed 4 great years professionally and personally with my young family before returning to France for another huge opportunity to take on the design of our international supply chain.  With several plants around the world for the first time, the assignment was very interesting, and we built the foundations of today’s supply chain and implemented tools like S&OP.  In the process, we learned that we needed to build a new Wheels & Brakes plant. Walton KY was selected due to the initial successes in the US, and we built a new W&B plant in 2007. I moved back to the US as the VP of operations of W&B.  This was another great opportunity in my career.  W&B was almost like a start-up as we started with just a few employees and from there we scaled the business ever since, adding capacity, shifts, and suppliers. It was an outstanding challenge. 

Safran Landing Systems is one of the tier 1 companies in the equipment branch of the Safran Group.  Safran Landing Systems has four lines of business in order of size: Landing Gears, Wheels & Brakes, Systems and Equipment (supporting Landing Gears and Wheels & Brakes), and MRO activities sites in Singapore, UK, France, US, and Mexico. 

In our business, proximity to the customer is key.  From our original Wheels & Brakes site in France, Walton is the second site with both Carbon and Wheels & Brakes plants, and nine years ago, we built a third carbon plant in Malaysia.  We now serve all our customers around the world by region: Walton serves the Americas, France serves Europe and the Middle East, and Malaysia serves Asia.

Our success and our phenomenal growth is due to the increase volume of aircrafts produced by Airbus and Boeing and our strong innovation capabilities. We have been able to grow with them, equipping more than 11,200 commercial aircrafts with a dominance in the A320 and B737. 

Safran has had an impressive and sustainable growth over the past 30 years, rising from one of the smaller players in the industry into a global market leader with over 56% market share on commercial planes.  What is the secrete to the success? 

Several factors explain this success.  First, we started with developing carbon materials that were highly innovative and that were bringing good performance both in terms of security (reliable braking) and endurance (less maintenance), both critically important to the airlines as they were impacting total costs.  When I started my career, the steel brakes were dominant but step by step carbon brakes have been demonstrating their superiority.  Second, we decided to go after both large and small airlines which allowed to establish a dominant position in the marketplace, widening the gap with our competitors and giving us a significant competitive advantage.  Our success fueled further innovations and we developed products that were significantly lighter than our competitors which is key in the industry.  One example, on the 787 our equipment is 236 pounds lighter than the competitors which gives the airline an equivalent added capacity of one passenger and 3 pieces of luggage per flight

How does Safran innovate in integrating new technology and automation? 

Innovation has always been a part of the DNA of the company, especially the Walton site. Since day one we have promoted LEAN Management.  Thanks to our commitment to encourage all employees to contribute small incremental ideas, we average 4 ideas per employee every single year.  With 300 employees we have not only been able to make yearly 1,200 incremental innovations, but also develop and promote a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. Our motto is “submit ideas that can make your job easier, less painful.” Employees love the program and are eager to participate.  

Most ideas come from the shop floor and have led to successful automation implementation.  In the past five years, we have invested a lot into automation.  As we strive to remove the painful part and keep the interesting part of their jobs, we bring robots in for moving parts. Operators continue to be the brain who focusses on the performance of the machine rather than loading and unloading the machines, the robots will bring the muscles.  As a result, we are changing the qualifications of the people we need and focusing more on engineers, programmers and maintenance technicians. 

We work closely with Gateway Technical College to help us develop our operators. We need to upskill our workforce and we work closely with the State of Kentucky which offers interesting financing programs in form of training grants.  We are also active in the apprenticeship program, and we are cooperating with the IGNITE Institute, a high school from Boone and Kenton Counties, that is specialized in technical subjects.  Students who are studying robotics spend 3 hours per day for one semester at our plant.  Those students will often follow higher education but our hope is that after they graduate, they come back working for us where they can enjoy a very nice career.  

Today our biggest issue is attraction of our workforce.  We have kept a low profile and our name is not broadly well-known outside of the aerospace industry.  In this very competitive environment for talent, we are struggling to find all the operators and talents we need.

What systems are in place to manage the risk and complexity of a multisite, multi-country operation and global supply chain? 

The way we confront risk has changed a lot.  Years ago, we were trying to avoid risk. Today we manage risk.  Our approach is to identify, anticipate, and prepare for risk. In the Safran Group, we conduct risk review where we identify “fear events”.  For each fear event, we try to reduce, mitigate, best case eliminate the risk.  In supply chain, risks are definitely high.  Several raw materials are in real shortage worldwide and we manage crisis cells.  We do double sourcing, triple sourcing, and permanently identify and qualify new sources.  

Safran has established a supplier’s performance and quality management group.  We audit our suppliers to identify areas of weaknesses so we can help them resolve their issues and close the gap.  We help them with their planning systems, Lean systems, their own supplier’s management systems.  To mitigate risk, we develop business continuity plans and  “what if scenarios”. Then, we develop plans on how we would handle the situation. This is very complex, but we need it to prepare for adverse events.

Reduction of the Carbon footprint requires significant innovation and investment. How does Safran Landing Systems prioritize its investments to contribute to significant projects which drive innovation breakthroughs? How does the aerospace industry integrate global themes like sustainability and energy efficiency, carbon footprint in their activities and objectives? 

Sustainability is taken very seriously at the Safran Group Level. If we don’t address the carbon footprint reduction, there is a very  high risk that passengers will not fly anymore or fly less, especially in Europe.  People are more conscious of the environment and the topic of sustainability has become a top priority.  We are working on the development of engines that emit less, and there is a huge plan to develop more efficient aircrafts.   

The other aspect of sustainability is the reduction of the CO2 footprint in our production. This is at the center of the debate here at our Walton plant. We consume significant amount of electricity and natural gas. The electricity produced in this area is a mix of coal and natural gas which emits a lot of CO2.  Our way to help reduce our carbon footprint is to help develop more sustainable energy production infrastructure, such as solar and windmill farms. The electricity produced in those farms will not directly come here. I dedicate personally a lot of time with my colleagues in North America to identify and select a project where we will finance the construction of those farms to offset 100% of the electricity Safran consumes in the USA.  

To offset the cost impact and related investments, we must bring even more innovation as we are in a market where we can’t pass on the cost to the customer.  Another area of exploration is biogas and working on carbon capture installations.  All of this requires significant capital investments and fortunately, the finance norms have evolved in the way we value CO2 reduction and calculate its ROI which would have been impossible in the past. 

As a leader, you are challenged in many ways – how do you personally find your balance and keep your energy level high and a positive/forward-thinking mindset even in the most difficult times? 

First, I should thank my family and my wife for their support.  All through my career, I took opportunities whenever they were offered to me.  Those choices were made as a family and I am grateful for their trust and support.  Sometimes it is difficult to unplug – balance is not easy.  The family is great to relieve the pressure and we enjoy sharing time together.  I have been fortunate that when my daughters were in High-School, I was able to see them compete in sports.  

It has not always been easy.  I think particularly at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis when we had to reduce the headcount.  We did our best with the management team to keep most of the team, but in this situations, it is not easy to sleep at night.  As a leader, those times are really the toughest ones. 

Thank you again Philippe for being with us today and allowing for this Champions Interview! We are excited and honored to feature you and Safran Landing Systems. in the Altix Access Newsletter and Industry Champion Interview! 

ABOUT SAFRAN LANDING SYSTEMS: Safran Landing Systems is a French company involved in the design, development, manufacture, and customer support of all types of aircraft landing gear, wheels and brakes and a wholly owned subsidiary of Safran SA. It is the world’s largest manufacturer of aircraft landing gear.  Safran Landing Systems Kentucky is the US subsidiary based on Walton Kentucky.

ABOUT ALTIX: Altix is the middle-market international industrial champions’ management consulting partner, providing business strategy, technology and innovation, and operational excellence support, in the world of advanced manufacturing and international supply chain.