The Story of Safran Electrical & Power
Safran Electrical & Power is one of the world's leaders in aircraft electrical systems. It is a key player in the equipment electrification & in the electric and hybrid propulsion sector. A look back at the story that began with a tiny bicycle engine invented by Jean Labinal.
The creation of Labinal
In the beginning was a company created in 1906 by Jean Labinal and Urbain Verguet which manufactured equipment for limousines. When the latter died on the war front in 1915, Jean Labinal continued to run the business alone.
In 1921, he joined forces with Gustave Bessière, to create a new company: The Etablissements Labinal. In the post-war race to motorization, Labinal invented a micro-engine that could be mounted on any bicycle, hence the ancestor of the Solex was born. The company is specialized in the distribution of electrical current and fluid filtration. Beginning in 1926, it supplied all dashboards and windshield wipers for Renault.
Aviation technology evolved with World War I. Until then, the energy needed to power the flight controls and brakes was provided by the pilot, who had to maneuver the handle and pedals, because electrical equipment was nonexistent. During the war, technological advancements gave way to electricity on aircraft. The electricity warmed the engine oil and made it possible for the pilot to send optical signals. In the 1920s aeronautics took off: invention of the jet engine and radar navigation; birth of the French Royal Air Force; creation of the first airline services between Paris and London and Cairo and London; and then, in 1924, a plane made its first trip around-the-world.
Given this growing sector, Établissements Labinal created an aviation department. By the end of the 1930s, the company employed about 700 people.
Aviation becomes strategic
To meet the needs of aircraft manufacturers (Potez, Bombardier, Caudron, etc.), Établissements Labinal designed the first electrical generators (rotating machinery), DC generators and electromechanical controls. The company also outfitted dashboards with selectors, switches and terminal boxes. However, on-board electricity remained limited and was used primarily for radios and radars. With the approach of the Second World war, aeronautics was becoming strategic. Production rates picked up and aircraft manufacturers called on their suppliers to install the equipment on site.
In 1936, the manager of the External Services Department, Louis Dacheux, suggested an innovation to Mr. Potez: to assemble the cables upstream and deliver the harnesses ready for installation. Until then the electrical «bundles» had been laid directly on board the airplane. Because the bundles were very bulky, they hindered the work of the other trades. Labinal continued to expand: in 1939 the firm had a staff of 1,400 and had the capacity to supply 100% of an aircraft’s electrical network.
When World War II broke out, Labinal moved to the free zone at the site of the Cantaranne slaughterhouses, near Rodez in the Aveyron. They created a company called Elma (Électromécani- que de l’Aveyron).
The factory was requisitioned by the occupying forces, which forced the workers to repair small Heinkel planes. None would leave the plant. In Toulouse, the SNCASO (Société nationale des Constructions aéronautiques du Sud Ouest – French National Society of Aeronautics Construction of South West France) employees were equally patriotic: none of the troop transport aircraft ordered by nazi Germany would exit the production lines. In 1943 and 1944, the two founders, Jean Labinal and Gustave Bessière, passed away. Pierre Bessière, Gustave’s son, then left his job as an engineer at a major automobile firm to take the reins at the company.
After France was liberated, Labinal manufactured parts for Latécoère and auto accessories: red lights; glass and metal indicator lights; metal rotary switches; and wiring.
From the postwar years to the 1970s
Aircraft and automobile go hand in hand
Like the aircraft themselves, on-board electricity needs continued to grow: lighting, de-icing, heating, air conditioning, enhanced instruments for communication, piloting and navigation, etc. In 1956, the company introduced the first constant-frequency generator at 400 Hz: the Labamatic constant speed alternator. This made it possible to meet the need for constant power supply to equipment like radar machines.
Labinal did not turn its back on the automotive sector. In 1958 the company merged with Précision Mécanique to become Précision Mécanique Labinal (PML).
In 1959 PML absorbed Société Générale d’Equipements (SGE), which owned two sites: one at Vire in the Calvados region and another at Villemur-sur-Tarn in Haute-Garonne. The objective was to strengthen the wiring business for the aviation and automobile markets. In 1960, PML opened the Manuval («Manufacture industrielle du Vallon») plant in Marcillac, the hometown of Pierre Bessière. After selling its injection department and Rodez factory to Bosch, that is where it transferred the operations maintained by PML.
In the 1960s, the Saint-Ouen site was expanded. Its know-how won over the major French manufacturers: SNCASO, Sud Aviation, and Aérospatiale. Labinal outfitted their best planes: the Caravelle, the jewel of commercial aircraft, and the Fouga which would be the aircraft of the French air force’s precision aerobatic demonstration team until 1980. Labinal was also chosen to manufacture the harnesses for the Jaguar, the first aircraft built as a bilateral project between France and Great Britain. The company opened an aviation electrical wiring workshop in Villemur- sur-Tarn. Labinal then had 3,000 employees.
The Saint-Ouen site ventured into aviation wiring for Dassault Aviation’s Mirage III and IV models. It was the beginning of an extraordinary partnership. At the same time, SGE commissioned the Labastide-Saint-Pierre plant in Tarn-et-Garonne to produce automotive wiring.
In 1971, Labinal’s operations covered three sectors: automotive, aerospace, and industry. Labinal continued to grow: in 1973 it acquired Sofrance (aeronautical filters) and in 1975 it bought Gelbon, a manufacturer of aircraft wiring and electronics. In 1976, the Saint-Ouen site produced the electrical master boxes for the Mirage F1, the mythical plane of the French military. Dassault Aviation also used Labinal to work on the Mercure. In 1977, PML bought its main competitor, RKG.
Labinal changes scale
In 1980, Labinal began manufacturing wiring for the Airbus A300 in Villemur. The company acquired Microturbo, a specialist in turbines for small power aircraft, and created an Aviation Engineering and Design Department in Toulouse.
Under the Labinal Aero & Defense Systems (LADS) banner, it opened subsidiaries in the United States, Germany and Great Britain. By now, the partnership with Dassault Aviation was in full swing: in 1985 Labinal equipped its latest business plane model, the Falcon 900, and the new Rafale A demonstrator in 1986.
In 1987, Labinal gained a 45% share in the capital of Turbomeca, a company founded by Joseph Szydlowski. In 1989 the Szydlowski family took control of the Labinal group in exchange for the remaining shares in Turbomeca. The Group also acquired the Connecteurs Cinch and TRW’s Moteurs Globe divisions.
The Airbus A320 bid was won in 1988; Labinal positioned PML as an expert capable of handling the many design changes and contingencies of a startup program. PML was chosen in 1989 for the first comprehensive wiring subcontracting deal for Airbus France. PML was renamed Labinal and established its new head- quarters in Montigny-le-Bretonneux in the Yvelines department (France). In that same year, Technofan (ventilation solution provider) was folded into Labinal’s aviation equipment operations.
One of the more notable events for Labinal in 1991 came when it was chosen by Dassault to provide the electrical wiring for the Falcon 2000. Labinal collaborated simultaneously on the Rafale program and, for the first time, the engineering and design offices worked with a digital model. The Labinal Group acquired the Erca de Caso network and created Comecad, to which it added its engineering business. Erca operates at two sites: Vichy and Blagnac. Labinal’s engineering activities ramped up quickly. In 1997, the engineering and design department worked on its first program using digital modeling for the Airbus A340-500 and A340-600.
In the automotive sector, two advantages drove growth: the acquisition of the wiring operations of the main European automakers (Renault, Fiat and PSA) and the growing array of vehicle equipment which required sophisticated electrical circuits.
The global adventure begins
In 1995, the U.S. expansion strategy enjoyed its first success: McDonnell Douglas picked Labinal for electrical wiring on the MD-95 (which would then become the Boeing B717). Labinal made another strategic decision when Airbus Germany wanted to outsource its wiring business. The aircraft manufacturer was encouraging its suppliers to produce in the dollar zone to minimize exchange risk. Labinal then proposed to produce both in France and Mexico. Once the call for bids was won, it bought out its Mexican rival Aerotec, that will become Labinal Chihuahua. In 1998, Labinal won its first contract with Boeing, covering the wiring for the Boeing 767. That same year its first industrial site in the United States was launched: Pryor Oklahoma was chosen to be Labinal’s pioneer site from which the company would develop an entire subsidiary in the United States.
Labinal branched out to Morocco in 2001 through a bid to replace the fleet of Royal Air Maroc. To develop an aeronautics sector in the kingdom, Royal Air Maroc and the Moroccan government required that a portion of the aircraft be manufactured in the country. Boeing selected Labinal as its wiring supplier. This resulted in the creation of MATIS Aerospace, a Joint-Venture that is equally owned by Labinal, Boeing and Royal Air Maroc. Four years later, Labinal bought GESPAC Integration, a wiring specialist (aviation, automotive, and rail). Labinal refocused the entity on aeronautics and opened its second factory in Morocco. In 2006, a new factory was built in Ain Atiq which was inaugurated by His Majesty King Mohammed VI. Morocco would have a prominent position from then on in Labinal’s industrial organization.
Starting in 2002 Labinal played a role in the Airbus A380 adventure. This gigantic airplane has more than 500 kilometers of on-board wiring and 80% of its harnesses are manufactured by Labinal. In the industrial phase that started in 2003, all Labinal’s sites have been called on for this project. Labinal was also chosen by Airbus France to design, develop, industrialize, manufacture and test the electrical harnesses for the nose cone and flight deck of the A400M military transport aircraft.
In 2003, it won the bid to supply all the wiring for the Boeing 787. This composite aircraft posed a real challenge to the Labinal teams: solving problems related to affixing the harnesses to the structure and to conductivity. Thanks to the Boeing 787 program, engineering and design activities as well as the Everett plant located near Seattle, and final aircraft assembly lines, developed rapidly; Labinal acquired the Texas-based Corinth Boeing site, which specialized in wiring. Corinth became Labinal’s head office in the United States. New contracts for Boeing and then new customers such as Bell, Lockheed, Sikorsky and Hawker have ensured its expansion so far.
In 2005, Dassault Falcon Jet Corporation chose Labinal to industrialize, produce, install and provide after-sales support for commercial electrical harnesses for the Falcon F7X. Labinal, which was already involved on the other members of the Falcon family, opened a site in Little Rock close to the Dassault Falcon Jet production line in the United States. This site performs aircraft completions for the Falcon line. Over the years, electrical systems have grown more complex and Labinal has diversified its capabilities in support of Electrical Wiring Interconnection System (EWIS) requirements for the global aerospace industry. It created Electrical Harness Manufacturing Software (EHMS) in 2006 with the IGE-XAO Group. This software suite makes it possible to manage the life cycle of wiring systems and configurations.
In 2007 Labinal opened a support center at Hawker Beechcraft in Wichita, Kansas. It also unveiled a new engineering office in Chihuahua, Mexico. In 2008, Labinal moved its corporate headquarters to Blagnac, near Toulouse, in the heart of France’s aeronautics industry and close to its operational centers.
Sikorsky called on Labinal for the first time in 2009 to manufacture electrical harnesses for the UH-60M/MH-60R (Black Hawk/Navy Hawk) helicopter program. Embraer also placed its trust in Labinal for the Phenom 100.
Joining Safran Group
In 2000, the Snecma group bought Labinal. In 2005, Snecma and Sagem formed the Safran Group. Therefore Labinal became part of the Group.
In 2014 Labinal is renamed Labinal Power Systems after the merger of Safran’s electrical activities (Labinal, Safran Engineering Services, Safran Power et Technofan). Eventually, when all of the companies changed their names, Labinal became Safran Electrical & Power.