Developer of self-locking solutions for aircraft engines, France-based JPB Système works with many global aerospace and aeronautical manufacturers. One of the first companies in France to establish an Industry 4.0 production process, JPB is diversifying its technology. In this interview, Damien Marc, who took the JPB helm 10 years ago, discusses the role of his company, the changes he’s witnessed in the industry, the impact of legislation, and the importance of emerging technologies that are re-shaping manufacturing operations.
What are JPB’s origins?
It all started in 1993 when aerospace engine manufacturer Safran asked my father, Jean-Pierre Marc, to develop a solution to remove lockwires from borescopes used in visually inspecting aircraft engines. Using lockwires to secure all engine connections, and the nearly one hour it took to remove and reinstall them, was a growing concern for engine manufacturers. My father spent the next six years developing a self-locking borescope plug that supported higher-level safety assurance and reduced maintenance time from one hour to 10 seconds. The success of this product saw it patented and later certified on different aircraft engines, including the GE90-115 engine for the Boeing 777 and the G7200 engine for Airbus’ A380.
This led my father and his business partner, Bernard Barre, to create JPB Système in 1995, which I acquired in 2009. Since I took over, I have been working to grow and diversify the business, while ensuring we maintain our focus on innovation. JPB Système serves some of the industry’s largest manufacturers, including Safran, Pratt & Whitney, GE, Rolls-Royce, and ITP Aero. It has around 90 employees, a varied manufacturing product portfolio, and three production facilities – in France, Poland, and the U.S., in Cincinnati, Ohio.
What do you offer today?
Our core business develops innovative solutions for engine manufacturers in the aerospace, automotive, railway, and nautical industries. We’ve progressively improved our self-locking borescope plugs for aircraft engine inspections and now hold 100% of that market. However, this is a niche product, so we wanted to capitalize on our expertise, resources, and equipment to expand our offering. The result, the recently patented Lulylok, is an advanced B-nut with a self-locking device to ensure pipe sealing, which prevents loosening and leakage caused by severe vibration and extreme heat. Eliminating need for a lockwire or safety cable to secure threaded parts within an engine is very disruptive and I believe there is significant growth potential for Lulylok in different industries.
Describe the advanced manufacturing execution system (MES) you’ve introduced?
Following the evolution of the aerospace industry and the need to compete globally, we managed to set up an automated and connected manufacturing plant, integrating robots and operating overnight through remote monitoring. We enhanced this by developing an MES that connects, tracks, and measures the effectiveness of all elements of the manufacturing process – including existing software, machinery, and associated applications. Our middleware solution, KeyProd, connects all elements of the manufacturing process and measures their effectiveness. We subsequently decided to make the solution available to other companies seeking to embrace intelligent manufacturing and Industry 4.0.
We developed a wireless sensor that can be affixed to machinery to detect vibrations and sounds to provide an immediate status on machine performance and deliver vital information from the production floor.
Officially launched at the 2019 Paris Air Show, the device is expected to be commercially available soon and will be sold through a newly created spin-off company, KeyProd.
What are the biggest changes that you’ve seen in aerospace in the last 10 years?
While today’s market is more global than ever, aerospace manufacturers are experiencing unprecedented pressure with the demand for aircraft units ramping up and the margins to invest in new technologies declining due to high international competition. On top of this, the challenge is to boost efficiencies and reduce production process costs. This directly affects the supply chain’s flexibility and the price ranges, as manufacturers have access to providers from across the globe.
How have those changes impacted the way you run your business?
Our customers’ expectations have changed. Engine manufacturers are now looking for partners rather than suppliers, which means we must react quickly, but also be more proactive and innovative. Not only are our customers focused on product quality, but they also demand fast delivery times and supply chain flexibility. They are seeking innovative, ground-breaking solutions that can be developed and certified quickly to help them operate globally.
We needed to completely revolutionize our production operations and set ourselves on the path to the industry of the future and Industry 4.0. We have worked hard to set up a connected facility, incorporating automated production processes and robots, enabling real-time data collection, as well as remote monitoring from different smart devices.
Do aerospace regulatory requirements affect your business or your supply chain?
We need to have standard certifications – ISO 9001 and AS9100 – which relate to the quality management system. We must also obtain quality and performance certifications for our products from each customer, which entails long processes of testing the product on the engine. In aerospace, the average time to market for a new project with a client is about 5-to-6 years. Therefore, it is crucial that we are extremely responsive to customers’ requirements.
Are you looking to alternative production methods, such as 3D printing, for part production?
Yes, and I think 3D printing will continue to positively impact the manufacturing industry throughout the next decade. The main limitation today concerns production speed and productivity. JPB Système is exploring the capabilities of metal binder jetting (MBJ), a high-precision 3D metal printing technology that cost-effectively prints components in high volume. As this technology supports metals for aerospace applications, such as titanium and stainless steel, it offers very promising opportunities. We’re aiming to install an MBJ printer and will start looking at prototype testing to grow our expertise.
What opportunities and challenges do you see for companies like yours within the next 10 years?
I feel responsible for connecting to the younger generation to make them aware of the changes happening in manufacturing. I’m sure we’re not alone in struggling to find skilled, motivated operators, who envision a career in our industry. I visit schools and universities, or arrange visits to our facility, to raise interest and inspire students about future opportunities in manufacturing.
For companies that want to succeed in this industry, I think developing and diversifying one’s product portfolio is vital. This is certainly true for JPB Système and will continue to drive our evolution.
Underpinning this, I think automation and Industry 4.0 will be key. The market has never been as successful as it is today, and at the same time, engine manufacturers are now willing to have more suppliers, which has opened the door to new companies entering the industry. The ongoing and ever-present challenge is to innovate, remain increasingly proactive, and offer a competitive price proposition. As has always been the case, I believe that opportunities will be within easier reach for companies that achieve this.