Spirit expanding parts manufacturing in Wichita

Spirit AeroSystems has ramped up its diversification plans through investing and expanding its Wichita fabrication and chemical processing work.

The city’s largest employer announced at the Paris Air Show on Monday that it has invested more than $30 million in what it is calling its five-axis center of excellence in Wichita.

The new center, which will be within Spirit’s existing plant on South Oliver, is expected to be operational later this year, Alan Young, Spirit’s vice president of fabrication, said in an interview last week.

Five-axis machines fashion “some of the most complicated parts on an airplane,” Young said, including aluminum and titanium parts for an airplane’s fuselage, pylons and wing.

“It really leverages the DNA within Spirit,” Young said. “We’ve been doing this for decades.”

The new center is part of Spirit CEO Tom Gentile’s strategy to seek out new revenue streams for Spirit, which includes utilizing the company’s expertise in machining and chemically processing parts to do that work for other aircraft manufacturers and their parts suppliers.

On the chemical processing side alone – including corrosion-resistant treatments, primer and painting of parts – Spirit has gained about 26 new customers since the first of the year, Young said.

Providing parts manufacturing and finishing gives the company a competitive advantage in being able to provide “end-to-end” services, Young said.

The expansion of the parts manufacturing and chemical processing isn’t expected to create more jobs or the need for more buildings.

Even with its work for Boeing in Wichita, including a recent increase in the rate of 737 production to 47 shipsets a month, Young said Spirit has the “latent capacity” – floor space, time and employees – to take on the additional work.

The new Wichita center builds on 20 three- and four-axis machines Spirit acquired earlier this year from a company in Mexico. Those machines are currently housed at Spirit’s plant in McAlester, Okla., but Young said a decision on where the machines will be placed long term has not been made. “All options are on the table,” he said.

Young said there’s a big opportunity for Spirit to grow its business with the focus on expanded fabrication and chemical processing of parts.

“There is a very large potential,” Young said. “It’s a large market, and they are aggressive plans.”

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark

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