Plenty of aerospace suppliers have opened new operations here to pursue Boeing work, but perhaps only one — Spanish aerospace tooling company MTorres — has relocated the founder’s son and his family to the Puget Sound area as a sign of its commitment.
The Puget Sound aerospace cluster has an ambitious new engineering player, drawn here from Europe by Boeing’s drive to automate its airplane manufacturing.
Spanish tooling company MTorres, which specializes in innovative automation technology, has bought 15 acres adjacent to Boeing’s widebody-jet plant in Everett, where it will invest $15 million to consolidate its operations in a new engineering and fabrication facility.
Groundbreaking is expected by March as MTorres prepares to deliver three separate sets of manufacturing equipment for Boeing’s new 777X jet, production of which should begin in 2017.
Parent company: Headquartered near Pamplona, Spain, MTorres has 690 employees worldwide. Its U.S. headquarters will be a 15-acre site adjacent to Boeing’s Everett plant.
What it makes: Automated machines that fabricate composite or metal aircraft parts. Tooling used to assemble parts into large aircraft structures.
Key customers: Boeing, Airbus, Comac of China, Irkut of Russia and Embraer of Brazil.
Local expansion: MTorres acquired Pacifica Engineering, with 55 employees, in 2012. It now employs 115 and expects to reach 175 next year. MTorres has won three assembly tooling contracts on the new Boeing 777X.
Intent on establishing itself in the region, MTorres acquired Bothell-based tooling company Pacifica Engineering in 2012.
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Eduardo Torres, son of company founder Manuel Torres and chairman of MTorres America, moved his family here from Spain this summer to head the U.S. operation.
“We decided to invest and put roots in the U.S. The initial investment happened prior to the 777X becoming a reality,” he said. “Our bet paid off.”
“We want to make a name for ourselves in the area,” Torres added. “We already have one in Spain.”
MTorres’s reputation rests on engineering prowess.
With almost 700 employees worldwide, it designs and builds large, sophisticated computer-controlled machines that mill metal airplane parts, and others that fabricate plastic-composite parts.
It also designs and builds the massive jigs and manufacturing cells where components are assembled into larger airplane structures.
MTorres supplies all the carbon-fiber lamination equipment used to fabricate the wings of Airbus’ all-composite A350 twin-aisle jet.
Its laser-positioning systems and giant jigs are used to assemble an A350 fuselage section at an Airbus plant in Getafe, Spain, and two A380 fuselage sections at another in Hamburg, Germany.
For assembly of those two jets, Airbus uses an MTorres robot that crawls along the circumference of a fuselage, drilling and riveting as it moves.
This robot “walks” across the structure on little suction-cup feet and is equipped with a vision system that recognizes its location and the proper positioning of the holes it drills.
MTorres equipment in Russia fabricates the wings of the forthcoming MS-21 jet built by Irkut.
In China, Comac uses MTorres tooling to assemble the mid- and forward-fuselage sections of its C919 airliner.
In Brazil, MTorres will provide the tooling for the center fuselage and wing stub assembly lines as well as the wing pylons for Embraer’s E2 jets.
Boeing already uses MTorres automated tape-laying machines to fabricate the 787 horizontal stabilizer in Salt Lake City and Seattle.
Other than the existing state aerospace tax incentives that Pacifica has benefited from, MTorres did not receive state or county tax incentives to purchase its Everett land.
However, it should be eligible for a one-time, business-tax incentive from the city of Everett of $1,000 for every new job it brings to the city, in increments of 50.
Eduardo Torres said the company is exploring further state incentives for its research-and-development work.
“The R&D tax credit is important to our business,” said Torres. “As we progress, we’ll look to the state for support in this way.”
Since buying Pacifica in 2012, MTorres has doubled the workforce it inherited to about 115 people today.
With the new facility, management plans to add 60 additional people, mainly young engineers.
Iñaki Elia, general manager of MTorres America, said the company tries to attract and keep talent by offering high-end jobs where engineers not only design such tools, but also integrate the electronic and mechanical systems, then install the tools at the manufacturer and get them up and running.
“In a bigger company, your influence is isolated. People that like to develop new technology and to understand the overall processes, they stay with us,” Elia said. “We can’t compete with Boeing economically, in terms of benefits. We try to attract with technology.”
Electrical engineer Orion Steinbrueck, 31, a University of Washington graduate, was hired six months ago and spent three months at MTorres headquarters near Pamplona, Spain, training with other new American hires and soaking in the company’s culture.
He’s now designing the electronic controls for part of a manufacturing cell that will bond the stiffening rods called stringers to the 777X wing skins.
“We will follow this project through to completion, installation and startup,” said Steinbrueck. “It’s a great experience to be involved in the early stages of a project and then follow it through and see the outcome of your hard work.”
Another UW graduate, 28-year-old mechanical engineer James Truitt, was hired as MTorres entered the region three years ago.
As lead engineer on the robotics station of the 777X stringer bond-manufacturing cell, he collaborates with experienced manufacturing engineers at Boeing as they put together the plan for the new jet.
“We meet with Boeing every week for the 777X,” said Truitt. “We’ve been making visits to the Advanced Composites Developmental Center in Seattle to see prototypes they have down there.”
Aside from the work, clearly another draw — perhaps especially for young, single engineers — is the supportive culture, the training, and the chance to travel internationally.
Matson Ovstedal, 25, yet another UW graduate and electrical engineer hired five months ago, traveled to Spain for training with Steinbrueck.
“It’s hard to sum up the professional, personal and cultural experience,” said Ovstedal. “But it was very positive.”
“Getting to see what MTorres was all about, you got to go and break bread with them. We hung out on the weekends. We went up into the mountains for a 29-kilometer (18-mile) bike ride,” he said. “It was fun, a little extreme.”
If the focus of MTorres’ work and the commitment to engineering sounds familiar, it may be because a local rival is in exactly the same business and with a similarly intense engineering culture: Electroimpact of Mukilteo is one of MTorres’s major competitors.
The rivalry between two of the leading aerospace-tooling companies in the world can only enhance the standing of the Pacific Northwest as a global center for aviation manufacturing.
On the Boeing 777X project, Electroimpact has won the bigger tooling contracts. It is building the automated fiber placement (AFP) machines that will fabricate the spars and skins of the 777X’s giant composite wings.
Yet MTorres’s three 777X contracts show the range of its capabilities and set down markers for a variety of work in future.
It will supply AFP machines with automatic head changing to fabricate the base of the rods called stringers used to stiffen the 777X wing skins.
Although MTorres has supplied multiple AFP machines to Airbus for the A350, these are the first for Boeing.
MTorres will also design and integrate robotic manufacturing cells, where stiffeners and rib posts will be drilled and fastened to the long 777X wings spars Electroimpact fabricates.
Ovstedal is designing part of this project, working on automated equipment that holds and manipulates the spar as it moves through the manufacturing stages within the cell.
The third work package for MTorres is the wing stringer bond-assembly cell that Truitt and Steinbrueck are working on.
Robots will pick up and precisely position the stringers on the wing skin, after which the composite parts are encased in vacuum bags and cured.
This is all cutting-edge technology, enabling a push into automation embraced by both Airbus and Boeing.
Boeing’s 777X program will offer a glimpse of the future of airplane manufacturing, a future with unheard-of jet production rates but with much more constrained growth in jobs for mechanics.
“We want to be pioneers,” said MTorres general manager Elia. “We want to automate as much as we can.”