Frédéric, R&T Engineer at Safran Transmission Systems
Since their inception more than a century ago, the car industry and the aerospace industry have always been closely linked. Nevertheless, to switch from designing a Formula-1 engine to designing one for a business-jet power-transmission system is far from straightforward. But Frédéric, who came from automotive industry and is now an R&T engineer at Safran Transmission Systems, has done just this. Portrait of a man who likes challenges.
Frédéric, now aged 49, completed his education with two years at the École Nationale Supérieure des arts et industries de Strasbourg (ENSAIS), now renamed the “Institut National des sciences appliquées” (National Institute for Applied Sciences). There, he took a sandwich course, working with Irepa Laser, an industrial research and development company specializing in laser processes and materials.
He qualified in 1996, and was employed by an automotive company several months later as manager of the heat-treatment workshop. “I was responsible for the heat treatment of prototype steel parts for Formula-1 engines and other applications. Actually, the engines were for the Formula-1 cars for the Prost Grand Prix team.” Later, Frédéric was in charge of materials and processes specifically. “This means that when I open my car bonnet today, I know exactly which materials were used to design the engine. On the other hand, I still can’t change a timing belt!” Frédéric laughs.
“A real challenge”
In 2013, after two years in Shanghai (China) where he was responsible for developing the materials and processes activity– “an amazing experience, that country is so different from ours” – Frédéric left the car manufacturer to join Safran Transmission Systems. “A complete intellectual rethink”, he sighs. “I arrived in a business where I knew neither the product or the context. A real challenge! But at that time, I needed to challenge myself. Looking back, I can see that my arrival at Safran was really a renaissance.”
Frédéric’s role as Supplier Quality Assurance Manager for Casting & Housing Machining was to direct the manufacture of a transmission housing for business jets “in bulk and to the required quality”. “To give you a rough idea, this type of housing may contain up to 120 cores [parts of the casting forming the housing mould]. It’s rare to have more than two in a car...”
In the course of a year, he did no fewer than 36 (!) return trips between France and Italy, where the supplier responsible for manufacturing the housing was located. But ultimately, what struck him most was discovering the “the real difference between the car and aerospace sectors: their flexibility. Once an aircraft is certified, it’s extremely difficult to change one of its blueprints. It’s much easier for a car.”
Additive manufacturing: “a world of opportunity”
In 2017, Frédéric changed tack. He was appointed as an R&T engineer. “In practice, my role is to develop applications using this new technology - additive manufacturing. Until now, there have been three main manufacturing techniques: materials are removed, assembled or deformed. Additive manufacturing works by adding material: it uses a 3D printer to create an object layer by layer, until you end up with the final part. This technology opens up a world of opportunities, which is why its development is so interesting.”
And next? “I’d like to move into a project-management role. Work a little less on technical topics and a bit more on management issues.”
A new challenge that does not scare Frédéric: but the opposite would have been astonishing.