MOBILE, Alabama – As an organizer of high-profile aerospace industry conferences, Joanna Speed sits at the controls of discussions about innovation, technological advancement and production breakthroughs. Today, Speed brings the conversation to the Alabama hometown of Airbus’ first U.S. passenger jet production center.
The SpeedNews Aerospace Manufacturing Conference, taking place at the Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa, features presentations from Airbus, ATI, Deloitte, GKN Aerospace and other industry players, as well as panel discussions involving executives, researchers and engineers from top companies.
In a question-and-answer session with Made in Alabama, Speed talks about how Alabama can capitalize on the landmark Airbus project and reflects on how the aerospace industry is adapting to rapid changes.
Speed is managing director of aerospace and defense events for Los Angeles-based Penton Media, which owns SpeedNews and Aviation Week. She joined SpeedNews, a provider of aviation industry newsletters founded by her parents, in 1994 and was instrumental in expanding the conference line-up.
The intelligence and forecasting forums Speed coordinates are considered influential in the industry. More than 225 aerospace companies and industry organizations are registered for the Mobile event, which concludes Wednesday with a tour of Mobile Aeroplex, home of the future Airbus plant, as well as the nearby ST Aerospace repair and overhaul facility and the UTC Aerospace plant in Baldwin County.
How did SpeedNews choose Mobile as the site for this important industry conference?
Speed: We hosted our first aerospace manufacturing conference in Charleston, S.C., where the Boeing 787 assembly line was built. We were planning on returning back there in 2014, but when Airbus announced their plans for the A320 Final Assembly Line, we felt it was a good opportunity for us to alternate this conference since the event focuses on the aerospace manufacturing supply chains for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).
With Airbus’ A320 family final assembly line rising at Mobile Aeroplex, what does the future hold for Alabama’s aviation industry?
Speed: This represents a tremendous growth opportunity for Alabama and the Southeast – new infrastructures, an abundance of job opportunities and economic growth within the counties.
Alabama and the Southeast have the space, and if everyone works together and plays their cards right, the region could grow into one of the largest aerospace clusters in the U.S.
Do you think Airbus is likely to expand its manufacturing activities in Alabama?
Speed: In time, yes, but there is a lot of work to do first within the supply chains. This could take five to seven years, or more.
Alabama actually has a very robust presence in the aerospace and aviation industries. Do you think that comes as a surprise to people?
Speed: Not if you are in this sector already. Anyone in aviation knows Alabama has a presence in aerospace, but if you were to ask someone on the street, I bet they would say Seattle, Wash.
What makes Alabama attractive to aerospace and aviation companies?
Speed: The abundance of land, its affordability, the port on the bay (in Mobile), and the community — the people. And now having Airbus’ Final Assembly Line, this makes the state even more desirable.
How might technological advancement in aviation and aerospace benefit other types of advanced manufacturing in Alabama or the Southeast?
Speed: Personally, I think we can all learn a bit from each other. The aerospace industry has learned a lot from the automotive industry. Our industry learns every day; the aerospace industry is constantly changing and evolving. With any sort of advanced manufacturing coming into any market, all markets are learning and growing every day.
Today, we are seeing a lot of advancement within aerospace manufacturing – automation; leaner processes; lighter, more efficient machines and tools; and the use of lighter (raw) materials. And now additive manufacturing (the industrial version of 3-D printing) is coming more into play. No matter what industry you are in, productivity means becoming more efficient, effective and profitable. Advancements and knowledge in this industry are allowing us to produce better products for their customers.
But we must not forget, advancements can also be disruptive and costly, and it can affect how current systems work within the supply chains. No matter what industry you are in, supply chains have to adapt to current environments to be more productive. If you are an aerospace manufacturer, you better make sure you stay on top of your game, or you may fall behind; the future of manufacturing is no longer futuristic, it is now.