Only three years ago, UAE-based Spatial was the relatively new kid on the block. It is already in the top tier of suppliers. Chris Long reports from Ras Al Khaimah.
The UAE is a hive of new activity. Not shy of innovation and entrepreneurship, it is a great place for start-ups and growth. The global flurry of orders for new aircraft is inevitably followed by an increased demand for the training organisations and equipment to prepare skilled aviation professionals needed to operate that increased fleet. When Spatial identified the rapid growth in the market for training equipment, it zeroed in on the potential for a new range of cabin crew trainers for the commercial aviation market.
In the northern Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, an hour north of Dubai, where a Free Zone has been established to encourage the build-up of internationally focused local manufacturers and suppliers, Spatial set up its manufacturing facility.
Henry Robertson, one of the two Managing Directors, had been onboard since its inception in 2007, so did the initial work on understanding the market and setting up production methods. Things continued to build especially since 2016 when he was joined by Marc Van den Broucque, his fellow Managing Director. Robertson came from a background in the production of luxury yachts, so is experienced in the use of advanced composite materials to produce high quality. Van den Broucque also brings expertise in international marketing, and with this closely knit team the expanded product line has continued to roll out, and led to an increase in client numbers from eight just three years ago to 30+ now.
Nothing Beats Quality
Robertson’s obsession with quality has become what he regards as the benchmark of the product line – it results in a high-gloss finish and appearance built on effective training platforms. The initial breakthrough came on the back of the success of some work for Emirates, when Spatial was tasked with the construction of a large A380 fuselage section as service trainer for the airline prior to the introduction of the aircraft in mid-2008. That was a mere six months after start-up. With such an impressive piece of equipment (it looks huge in its dedicated building), the word-of-mouth recommendations followed, with the likes of Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus and other major players swiftly placing further orders.
Free Lifetime Support
Alongside the constant search for quality, the other essential ingredients, according to Van den Broucque, are customisation and free 24/7 lifetime service support which, he says, results in a lower lifetime cost. He is delighted that every single client who has visited Spatial’s facility has signed up – an impressive statistic. The customisation is achieved through working from OEM specifications, reverse engineering where necessary, and then designing to the specific customer needs using the latest Solidworks CAD software from Dassault Systèmes, which Robertson says is more flexible and user friendly than some other software packages.
Controlling Production Costs
Whilst reliability and quality are essential, there are ways of curbing excessive costs, where appropriate, by using other materials/sources for equipment. Not everything has to match real aircraft certification standards. Aluminium can be used in place of titanium, doors can be aircraft-removed items, and windows don’t need the strength to cope with pressurisation. The vast majority of the production is in-house, using the latest technology (additive manufacturing where that fits), and a rapid response to orders is also in the company DNA.
Continued controlled expansion is the key to the future. Van den Broucque is clear that the solid foundations of the management structure are such that the team can cope with the growth to at least a doubling of output – and the rush of orders keeps coming in.
Published in CAT issue 1/2020