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Dassault Aviation Dassault 1986-2000 - Management Changes

Marcel Dassault died on 17 April 1986. France's government, top-ranking officials, and local and international media paid him an extraordinary tribute. His was the first funeral celebrated at Invalides for a French industrial businessperson. Marcel Dassault will be remembered especially as a man with a formidable desire to create, and forward-looking determination. In his words, "With no false modesty, I will say I have always tried hard not to run out of imagination. I have worked hard with the team I gathered. I have never let hurdles discourage me. I love what I do, and I know how to use my willpower to get anything that might divert me out of my way. I lead a simple and happy life. Everything around me converges, and indeed must converge, to promote the task I have set myself."

Up the 1980s, the company's corporate style was basically technical. The favorable economic context made it possible to focus on obtaining performance. Emphasis was also placed on meeting deadlines: flying at a given date at the Bourget air show, not forgetting a meeting arranged even five years beforehand, etc.

Given the persistence of the crisis, this corporate style changed. AMD-BA sought to include financial costs to obtain overall strict control over its programs. The Dassault company became aware that needs were decreasing as early as 1982, and, in 1986, convinced that the crisis in the aviation industry would be durable, it began to implement a policy to rationalize all its establishments.

In view of the long-term trends in markets, AMD-BA looked into the possibilities of working on a reduced production basis. The competitive gaps due to mass production closed: the company came up against US companies that also had to scale down their production to smaller production series produced at lower rates and at competitive costs.

The aim of Serge Dassault and his staff was thus to tailor production to French orders alone while stepping up efforts to obtain ever-illusive export contracts, any additional business obtained in this way being subcontracted out. For this purpose, the industrial tool was tailored to avoid duplication and to incorporate CAD/CAM (CATIA) brought about by the computer revolution. The optimizing of sites and associated resources made it possible to make investments in fields such as information processing, CAD/CAM, design and production facilities, new materials and any other activities affecting the aircraft manufacturer / industrial architect's profession.

In parallel, the Company made considerable investments in composite materials and robotics. Staff were made aware of cost control, the need to seek ways of cutting costs and scheduling. The implementing of competitive engineering, the aim of which is to take into account the life cycle of a product from its design to its in-service use while complying with customer specifications, led the company to:

  • reinforce its expertise as an industrial architect of complex systems;
  • significantly reduce costs;
  • pursue efforts towards achieving total quality.

A key milestone in Dassault's reorganization was achieved through the development of CAD/CAM which improved productivity: the merging of prototype design offices (responsible for development activities) and series production design offices (responsible for industrialization activities) was an illustration of this. The working method adopted by the Company, up to the 1960s, was to build the prototype for a new program very quickly so as to obtain flight trials results as soon as possible and make any necessary corrections before beginning industrialization. The Design Office and Prototype Workshop were tailored to such objectives.

Industrialization was undertaken, on the basis of the definition thus obtained, by the series production design office and the production plants which had closely monitored, and even partially participated in, the prototype phase. Changes in manufacturing techniques, the complexity and scarceness of new programs, the considerable advances made in electronic modeling and the emergence of sophisticated weapons systems gradually made such an approach increasingly ill-suited. Modern tools, incorporating CAD/CAM now allowed prototypes and series production aircraft to be defined at the same time. Instead of prototypes, aircraft were now produced for the purposes of test programs, being built from components designed by CATIA and intended from the outset for series production. These "first of class" aircraft were so similar to the final version that they could be sold to customers or kept for testing subsequent systems. As a consequence of this development, the two offices were, from August 29, 1988 onwards, merged into a single Design Office for military aircraft and spacecraft. The independent existence of the prototype building workshop based in Saint-Cloud could thus no longer be justified and this workshop was thus transferred to, and merged with, the series production workshop of the Argenteuil production plant in 1992. The Mérignac production plant was given the same responsibilities as far as civil aircraft were concerned.

This latest stage in this rationalization was to bring all the company's main functions, previously spread over the Vélizy, Vaucresson and Saint-Cloud sites, together under the same roof on the Saint-Cloud site. This was implemented on the basis of the integrated engineering concept. This allows all staff to work together as a team and maximizes the benefits of direct communication. Since the end of 2000, the new building houses almost 1200 staff on five levels with a total floor area of 26000 m2.

The implementation of these principles has allowed AMD-BA to adapt to the market and maintain its profitability several years ahead of all other companies in the sector. After fourteen years at the head of Dassault Aviation and having reached the statutory age, Serge Dassault put forward a motion, at the Board of Directors' meeting of February 16, 2000, for Charles Edelstenne to be appointed as Chairman and Managing Director with effect from April 4, 2000. He would be assisted by Bruno Revellin-Falcoz who was appointed as Deputy Chairman and Managing Director. Serge Dassault has continued to serve the company's in the capacity of Honorary Chairman and advisor to the new chairman in the same way as Marcel Dassault did with Benno-Claude Vallières.

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