PFW Aerospace – More Than the Sum of Its Parts

PFW Aerospace has a proud history, but as part of the Hutchinson Group it is reaching new heights.

According to the credit rating agency Creditreform, the average age of German companies is around 18 years. So, it is not hard to see how PFW Aerospace, founded in 1913 to build biplanes, is exceptional.

“It’s hard to summarise a company’s history of over 100 years,” says Stefan Zimmermann, CEO of PFW Aerospace today.

Indeed, the company has a long and storied history, but the latest chapter of that story began recently when PFW Aerospace was acquired by the Hutchinson Group.

“We are now an integral part of the Hutchinson Group and look forward to growing tremendously using Hutchinson as a vehicle to make the best of the crisis we’re now facing in COVID-19,” Zimmermann says. “I am extremely confident that Hutchinson will help PFW to not only to weather the current crisis but become stronger as a result of it.”

Zimmermann himself is a relative newcomer to the company, joining PFW six months ago, but he is not short on experience with 30 years working in the aerospace sector with firms including Airbus, Rolls Royce, Collins and now PFW Aerospace.

Still, in that short amount of time he has already seen the integral role PFW plays in the aerospace industry.

“In a way, we provide the blood vessels of the aircraft,” Zimmermann says. “We connect the vital parts through tubes and ducts. This is a major portion of our product portfolio in any shape or material form. We’re specialised in any metal tubes and ducts but also products made from composites, and the other big portion of our business is we provide aerostructures, flaps, fuel tanks, any aerostructure customers consider vital to the aircraft.”

Flying Through Crisis

Of course, Zimmermann has joined PFW Aerospace in the midst of the greatest crisis ever to hit not just the company, but the industry as a whole.

“Our biggest challenge has been getting through COVID-19, not just from a purely medical perspective but also a business perspective,” Zimmermann tells us. “This is the longest, deepest and most severe crisis the commercial aerospace industry has faced. It is more severe than any other situation we have collectively seen.”

However, with crisis comes opportunity, and the pandemic has opened up new markets for PFW Aerospace, and the Hutchinson Group as a whole.

“To a certain extent, there has been an opportunity for us to benefit from the fact that some of our competitors are struggling,” Zimmermann points out. “We have been able to acquire some fairly strategic new work from competitors, despite the fact that in the market for the foreseeable future there’s no new big development programme on the horizon.”

These big new developments are typically PFW’s biggest source of new work, but the company is adapting to the new market.

“There’s a lot of activity going on. Companies are struggling for financial or performance reasons and we have a very proven track record, and the fact we are an extremely reliable partner has enabled us to acquire these new business opportunities,” Zimmermann explains. “On top of that, being part of Hutchinson lets us be part of a bigger conglomerate and integrator within the Hutchinson organisation to provide more compelling product solutions to our customers, integrated through us. Together with our other partner companies within Hutchinson, we are constantly striving to reduce the weight of our products by applying newly developed materials and design principles which will ultimately help to reduce the overall carbon footprint.”

While the crisis itself provides opportunities, Zimmermann is the first to admit it is going to be a marathon for the industry to overcome this ordeal. But he remains optimistic that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Part of Something Bigger

At the same time as the industry has by necessity been undergoing a dramatic transformation, PFW Aerospace has been undergoing changes itself as it joins the Hutchinson Group. But while the acquisition is going to necessitate some big changes in the company, Zimmermann is keen not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

“I’ve been personally involved in various acquisitions like this but here particularly, on one hand, we needed to ensure that we’re perceived to be an integral part of Hutchinson,” he tells us. “At the same time PFW has over decades been part of what is today the Airbus Group, so there is a perception in the market we have been part of Airbus and we are still closely related to Airbus, who is our largest customer. So, we need to preserve our identity, and communicate that we are part of Hutchinson while showing that we’re distinct from Airbus.”

Zimmermann is doing this by focusing on the unique strengths of PFW Aerospace as a company, and in doing so he hopes to achieve the best of both worlds.

“We’re focusing on our local strength while reaping the benefits that being part of Hutchinson gives us access to,” Zimmermann says. “That includes new technologies, capabilities, financial coverage. We need to balance maintaining a local culture while acknowledging we are an integral part of a larger game as well. It’s quite an endeavour and it takes years to achieve.”

A large part of that means open communication with the people in the company.

“You have to make sure you provide clarity to the workforce in terms of what we’re proud to keep in our culture and where we think there’s something new to add on, without necessarily deleting things from our own culture,” Zimmermann says.

A big part of that culture is the sheer talent PFW Aerospace has to offer. Zimmermann is the first to point to the vast potential in the workforce PFW has today across Europe.

“PFW as a group has sites in Germany and Turkey as well as in the UK, plus we have engineering offices in Germany, France and the UK. So, in a way we have an international footprint in microcosm already,” Zimmermann says. “My primary objective is to make the best of the talent we have today. We have a lot of talent that has not been fully discovered or exploited.”

The industry is changing, but PFW Aerospace, and Hutchinson Group as a whole, are already changing course to thrive in that new future.

“We have now redefined our strategy in view of what we expect the next five or six years to look like,” Zimmermann says. “We’re not expecting major new aircraft developments. We’re going to be facing a period where traditionally we will not be part of new programmes therefore, we have to find ways to acquire new business through other means by remaining competitive.”

That strategy is going to mean becoming more competitive but also going into brand new markets.

“We’re maintaining a radar screen of where we want to get involved, looking at a business that was not considered feasible for PFW just a couple of years ago,” says Zimmermann. “We are one of the powerhouses when it comes to tubes and ducts. We can provide solutions for any of those, but we want to expand beyond that in view of bringing together the capabilities that Hutchinson offers already today, but far more integrated. We can provide a more compelling, integrated and complex solution than the individual sum of the offering. Being an integrator is our strategic aim.”

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