For almost 50 years, Forest City Gear has grown through reinvestment, a lesson longtime owner Frederic Young learned from his parents, the company’s founders.
Now, the Roscoe, Illinois-based business – which makes loose gearing – is looking at a higher altitude of growth because of strong sales in aerospace and foreign markets.
“Our growth has averaged 5% to 10% per year. We anticipate banner years for the next several years because of the growth in aerospace and medical,” Young says. “Our goal is to reach $40 million within the next 5 to 10 years.”
Forest City is one of many companies – most of them manufacturers – that comprise the Rockford Aerospace Cluster, one of the major reasons the Rockford area has been breaking export records.
In 2013, exports from the Rockford region surged 32%. The total value of Rockford region exports – $2.53 billion – was the highest on record, and placed Rockford 89th in the nation’s metro areas in exports, far above its ranking by population. By comparison, U.S. exports rose only 2% that year.
For a century Rockford has been at the forefront of machine tooling technology. As manufacturing jobs move back to the United States, and manufacturing again becomes a technology-driven business, Rockford is poised to lead in complex industries such as aerospace.
“We’ve always had a strong aerospace sector in the Rockford area, but our recent efforts to build the profile of the Rockford Aerospace Cluster are paying off,” says Carrie Zethmayr, executive director, trade and investment for the Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC). “Area exports grew 46% from 2010 to 2012 and our projected export growth is 70% by 2020.”
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and RAEDC have teamed up to connect companies – especially small and mid-sized – to markets across the world. Connections have come from:
- DCEO’s Office of Trade and Investment (OTI) worked with the RAEDC to lead export-oriented delegations to the Paris and Farnborough Air Shows, helping local companies find clients abroad
- OTI and RAEDC have collaborated on Rockford go-global events
- OTI has worked to promote the Rockford aerospace industry globally, and increased international interest in Rockford as an investment destination
“Aerospace manufacturing is the backbone of the Rockford Region economy, and has become one of the most impressive success stories in the Midwest,” states Jim Schultz, DCEO Director. “That’s why so many global aerospace companies, from Woodward to GE Aviation, are expanding in Rockford.”
Building an aerospace powerhouse
Just 90 minutes northwest of downtown Chicago, the Rockford area has about 70 companies in the aerospace supply chain within the Rockford area employing more than 7,000 people.
Expanding that region to include Chicago and southeastern Wisconsin, there are more than 200 companies in the aerospace sector, including giants such as AAR Corp., Northrop Grumman, and Boeing.
“Despite the challenging economic times in Illinois and a lot of other states, Illinois has a strong manufacturing base, and the Rockford Cluster is its best-kept secret,” says Mike Thompson, vice chairman of Ultrasonic Power Corp. (UPC), a manufacturer of industrial precision ultrasonic cleaning equipment. UPC has clients in more than 50 countries, and one-third of its revenue is attained from international markets.
Woodward, which makes fuel, combustion, fluid, actuation and electronic control systems for the aerospace and energy markets, also is thriving in Rockford. It is in the midst of building its second campus in the region, a $300 million, 440,000ft2 facility in Loves Park for its aircraft turbine systems division.
“The state was proud to provide assistance for Woodward’s expansion because of the powerful economic ripple effect. A study by Northern Illinois University estimated that for every 100 Woodward jobs created, another 58 jobs will be created elsewhere in the Rockford metropolitan area,” Schultz says.
Regional economic leaders such as Zethmayr, working in tandem with DCEO, play a vital role in finding new overseas customers for Rockford’s aerospace manufacturers and assisting in the overall promotion of the cluster.
“The Illinois SBDC International Trade Center of the Rockford Area is a program that works directly with companies to increase the total value of goods exported from the Rockford Area of Illinois,” Zethmayr explains. “Services are provided to companies to walk them through the process of establishing and growing an export program, including consulting, training, and assistance in accessing valuable programs such as the Illinois State Trade and Export Promotion (ISTEP) program.”
The ISTEP program provides Illinois’ small- and medium-sized businesses with assistance to increase their exports. ISTEP includes three options for Illinois’ companies: group trade missions, individual foreign market sales missions, and assistance to achieve product compliance certifications.
“We export gears to Switzerland, the Netherlands, China, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and Mexico,” Young states. “We’ve attended local and international trade shows with assistance from the Rockford Economic Development Council and the state of Illinois.”
Forest City sells about 30% of its products to aerospace-related companies.
“We have gears in almost all Boeing aircraft and many Airbus models, not to mention Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Learjet and many others,” Young says. “We made gears for the actuator arms and wheels drivers for the last Martian Rover (Curiosity), so you might say we are out of this world.”
Midwest Aero Support, of Machesney Park, received state ISTEP grants for participation in the Farnborough Air Show, Paris Air Show, and the Saab Operator’s Conference. The company provides repairs and electronics manufacturing for the commercial aircraft industry, including more than 130 customers and 12 OEMs worldwide, for manufactured products.
“Our first exports began in 1992 to airlines in Europe once we had established our repair capabilities,” says Brent R. Johnson, president of MAS, who started his career with Sundstrand Corp. and Saab Scania Aerospace. “With my prior experience dealing with airlines around the world, I offered our repair services, and many of them gave us the opportunity.”
Strength in numbers
Companies such as UPC are thriving, in part, because of their proximity to customers in the region.
Based in Freeport, UPC provides cleaning solutions for a wide variety of aerospace companies including Boeing, Virgin Galactic, Parker Hannifin, Lockheed Martin, and Space X.
“Being an active member of RAEDC and RAAN [the Rockford Area Aerospace Network] allows UPC the opportunity to be in close proximity with other aerospace-focused manufacturing companies,” Thompson states. “As a result of being located in an area that has so many aerospace-focused companies, we have attended many networking events such as the Lockheed Martin Supplier Symposium and Boeing Symposium, which has resulted in added sales and with other network member companies. UPC has been successful in the Rockford area due to educational institutions such as Northern Illinois University and Highland Community College preparing the future workforce for success in the area.”
UPC provides a line of energy efficient generators that produce high-frequency ultrasonic force for prominent aerospace, aircraft and defense component companies, and national defense departments. UPC’s product line started with generators, which has now expanded to console systems, bench tops, immersible transducers, flow-through reactors, and customized systems, allowing UPC to provide solutions for a diverse group of industries including automotive, pharmaceutical, music, and computer technology.
“When people think of manufacturing, they just think back to the 1970s and 1980s,” Thompson says. “Manufacturing is really technology. We’re a tech-based company.”
Young also credits the strong regional supply chain and customer base as factors in Forest City Gear’s success.
“Some of our very important customers are located in the area and they have helped our growth,” states Young, whose company has approximately 400 customers across the United States. “Because Rockford is so focused on manufacturing, that has been a real boon to our production with many suppliers for heat treat, blanking, plating, and other operations nearby. We have a world-class airport on the south side of Rockford, which helps. And, since Illinois is so centrally located, we have easy access to potential customers.”
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Manufacturing delays in the aerospace and defense (A&D) industry – and their associated costs – are a major challenge for companies in this market. There are many reasons for these widespread delays including inconsistent, incomplete, and disjointed communications among the many companies in the extended supply chain. These companies include fuselage, engine, wing, and component manufacturers.
To help remedy this, executives leading these aerospace companies should consider embracing digital technologies on a broader scale, including mobile applications, connected products, analytics, and services. This new way of thinking should guide strategic decisions in every aspect of their business. By adopting digital technologies, companies can achieve more effective collaboration and communication in all phases of aerospace manufacturing. This would make aerospace manufacturing faster, less complicated, more synchronized, and less expensive throughout multi-dimensional supply chains, across multiple continents, and for hundreds of suppliers.
Digital technologies that customers of Tier 1 aerospace suppliers use will dictate which suppliers will get to interact in the supply chain. If suppliers fail to take advantage of these new technologies, their cost profile will be higher because they’ll be unable to take advantage of the cost benefits of interacting with others in the digital realm. Expectations will extend down from the OEMs, increasing pressure on supply chain partners to get onboard with digital capability.
A&D executives should focus on integrating digital technologies throughout manufacturing, supply chains, legacy infrastructure, assets, differentiation, products, and services. Rather than continuing the industry’s traditional practices, executives should consider leveraging digital technologies and their capabilities on a broader, more thorough, and strategic scale.
In doing so, it will likely become easier for everyone in the manufacturing supply chain to be aware of changes to product specifications, scheduling, and communications. In an all-digital process, a late-breaking decision to change the size of an aircraft’s wings from the original plan could be made more rapidly, accurately, and on-the-fly.
A product change using traditional engineering and manufacturing procedures could prove disruptive and costly. Information about the change, if not communicated quickly or accurately, can lead to mismatched parts, higher costs, or late deliveries. Digitally enabled analytics tools can collect, organize, synthesize, and evaluate disparate and voluminous amounts of data to generate more actionable and timely insights for effective decision-making. For example, some companies are leveraging the power of in-memory data processing to reduce final assembly time and increase production.
Although digital technologies are used in manufacturing processes today, they have limited applications. As a result, their business value has not been maximized. Aerospace companies could gain greater performance and efficiency benefits by increasing digital use across their businesses through a more integrated, enterprise-wide strategy. Manufacturers should look at what they’re doing, where they fit in, how software is going to impact their business, and how they can capitalize on updating software.
Digital transformation is already on the minds of many leaders in this industry. An Accenture report, Digital Coming of Age: Seizing the Digital Opportunity in Aerospace, found that 50% of aerospace executives expect digital technologies to help reduce manufacturing delays. Focused on the new and changing role of digital in the A&D industry, the survey polled executives about their companies’ digital investments, strategic priorities, and challenges. These executives work for A&D aircraft and engine manufacturers, as well as suppliers, from eight countries: Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The research also revealed that reduced costs, optimized processes, and faster airplane deliveries are the three largest impacts that digital strategies are expected to have on airplane design, development, and supply chain processes.
A digital to-do list
To help work through costs and benefits, management should:
Half of these companies are looking at the biggest expense in engineering – core to what aerospace companies do – but the bad news is companies are missing the opportunity to invest in digital capabilities elsewhere. They need to think about where that digital capability can be integrated in the products and services they provide and how they leverage digital to shorten development life cycles, and reduce delays in the supply chain due to tardy information exchange or materials logistics.
Almost three-quarters of Accenture’s survey respondents believe they lack internal skills to leverage digital capabilities. To overcome deficits, they need to retrain current staff while seeking new recruits and other outside resources. An outside firm that already works with the new digital technology daily – and in many cases, works with the software to understand its capabilities before its release – can mitigate risk.
Manufacturing airplanes is one of the world’s most complicated engineering feats. In many ways these are flying computers. There are a vast number of customized technologies involved; many types of companies that have to be synchronized in the manufacturing process. Simultaneously, people working on multiple continents for various companies need to be informed about changes in manufacturing plans, adjustments to production schedules, and supplier issues.
Communication between different parties in the supply chain is a formidable undertaking. By implementing digital technologies, such as collaboration tools on mobile devices that can access up-to-the-minute data from cloud resources, all parties can have access to the same information at the same time. The entire manufacturing process needs to be harmonized in new and more creative ways. Aircraft should be thought of as fully integrated digital systems from nose to tail. No longer should they only be viewed as aircraft that have a few digital technologies. The manufacturing process should be viewed as a single, fluid, and interoperable digital channel from one end to the other, integrating all functions in between.
The reality is: The digital aircraft is here and the industry needs to fly fast to meet it.
About the author: John Schmidt is the managing director of Accenture’s North American Aerospace and Defense business. He can be reached at email@example.com.
La Grange is a quiet, peaceful, friendly little community located in the heartland of The Great State of Texas. Texas is well known as being the home of Big Oil, the Dallas Cowboys and great BBQ. Many are not aware however, that Texas also has a large manufacturing base, producing parts for industries ranging from energy to aerospace and everything in between.
Mico Machine Co., established in 1978 and located in La Grange, Texas, as a small family oriented job shop, has grown into a manufacturing powerhouse. It produces high quality, precision machined aircraft components for the aerospace market.
“By implementing the latest technology that the manufacturing industry has to offer, it has brought Mico Machine from the small company it once was to the company it is today,” says Casey Kulhanek, vice president of Mico Machine. “We strive to continually improve our process, and invest where we can. It’s the only way to stay competitive in today’s market.”
History of coolant issues
In March 2013, Mico Machine was experiencing serious coolant related issues with a full-synthetic metalworking fluid.
“We were having major issues with rust formation on our Toyoda 650 and Makino A71 and A81 milling centers,” Kulhanek says. “The rust was becoming such a problem that eventually our Toyoda horizontal tool changer and gear box froze up completely. This cost us about $70,000 in parts and labor to repair, as it was totally unsalvageable. This dollar figure doesn’t include the four weeks of down time that this cost us as well. With both figures combined, we estimate the total amount to be more than a $150,000 loss.”
Rust was only one of the many issues facing Mico Machine. Mico must machine a wide range of materials to make parts for the aerospace and defense industries, so various tool life and productivity related issues can arise.
“We machine a lot of aircraft grade aluminum, exotic metals such as Inconel 718, 6AL4V titanium, 17-4, 15-5, and 13-8PH stainless steels as well,” Kulhanek explains. “We’ve been struggling with poor cutting performance, marginal surface finishes, and productivity issues with our prior fluid on most, if not all, of the materials we machine.”
Reaching out for help
Kulhanek desperately surfed the web for coolant suggestions from other shops and “what became apparent to me was Blaser Swisslube was always in the top three recommendations. I found several posts by one of the applications engineers from Blaser, so I called him to see if he would be willing to help us out.”
Mico’s fluid use was high. Based on the number of machines, the applications, and the work, Mico Machine switched to B-Cool 755.
Blaser Swisslube Area Manager Roger Martinuc notes, “The situation was pretty bad at Mico when we initially surveyed the shop. Not only were the machines rusted badly, but the smell in the shop was pretty unbearable. They were going through substantial fluid concentrate due to biological issues; about 495 gallons of concentrate per month. This was due in part to cleaning and disposing of the cutting fluid every two to three months. This doesn’t take into account the lost production time due to the machines being idled for cleaning.”
There also were some machine operators and maintenance personnel with contact dermatitis issues, which they strongly felt were related to the fluid they were using, Martinuc explains. “It has now been eight months since the implementation of B-Cool 755, and these issues are now resolved.”
Analysis of Mico’s coolant costs and usage has also shown a dramatic decrease; from 493 gallons of concentrate per month, to only one 55 gallon drum of B-Cool 755 per month. This is a substantial cost savings, even considering that the price per gallon of the Blaser coolant is more than twice the price of their former metalworking fluid.
“Our tool life and productivity have also increased,” Kulhanek states. “Our tooling costs have dropped a little more than $51,000, just in the last eight months alone. Our productivity has increased as well. An excellent example of this is a reoccurring Inconel part we run every month. This job run consists of 40 parts of Inconel 718. We could only machine 7 to 10 parts before the tools were completely worn out and had to be changed. Since we started using the B-Cool 755, we can now run the entire lot of 40 parts without having to index our inserts. As a matter of fact, the cutting tools showed only minor flank-wear, which to us is incredible.”
Mico Machine has yet to dispose of any of the B-Cool 755 to date. The company also invested in a SmartSkim coolant recycling system based on Blaser’s recommendation.
Kulhanek states, “We plan on implementing a coolant recycling program to help reduce our coolant costs and consumption even further.”
Increased cutting performance and improved shop conditions weren’t the only improvements noticed at Mico Machine.
“What’s been a relief for us is the rust formation has stopped, and we’ve noticed that the B-Cool seems to be cleaning up the machines and removing the old coolant residues as well,” Kulhanek explains. “We’re very pleased with how things have turned out. Our machine operators like it, our maintenance crew likes it. Along with the tool life and productivity improvements we’ve seen, the Blaser product is leaps and bounds above what we were using before.”
Mico Machine Co.
About the author: Brett Reynolds, CMFS, is senior applications engineer for Mico Machine Co. and can be reached at 845.294.3200.
DT in the manufacturing world is an integral part of the U.S. Advanced Manufacturing Enterprise championed by the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute. In the aerospace and defense (A&D) industry, DT is the idea of seamlessly integrating information through the value chain – from initial capability planning and analysis, through design, manufacturing, and testing, to final sustainment and disposal. All of these functions can share contextualized digital information, and the DT allows dynamic, contemporaneous assessment of the system’s current and future capabilities. Specialists throughout the process can work on items simultaneously to inform decisions throughout the life of a system or product.
In 2013, Christine Furstoss, global technology director for GE’s Global Research division, suggested that DT was the next great step-change for manufacturing after Henry Ford’s perfected assembly line and Toyota’s lean processes. DT forms an integral part of GE’s Brilliant Factory concept, which envisions, “a self-improving factory that can continuously improve products and processes in the plant with a seamless Digital Thread that can gather, analyze, and transmit data real-time to different parts of the supply chain.”
Quick wins of DT
Digital transmission allows engineers to test CAD designs with virtual models to ensure they can be produced. A common database and physics-based models support design optimization for production ability, usability, and maintainability. Manufacturers can reduce the cost of hard tooling by incorporating tolerances during this collaborative design process, which results in less external tooling needed to position components during assembly.
Manufacturers will progressively rely on DT to interpret data gathered by connected sensors, machines, and networks. Intelligent feedback loops will adapt and incorporate manufacturing and maintenance needs into the initial design stage.
Supply chains are becoming less linear and more like a network, raising the risk of misalignment between supply and demand. Internally, supply chains comprise three elements: physical, informational, and financial. DT can bring these elements together and integrate them into the wider business.
Successful internal supply chains are driven by a strategy that aligns with the overall enterprise business or organizational goals. Supply chain planning must also be reactive to feedback from its network of infrastructure, human resources, technology development, and procurement.
The supply chain network must also be responsive to feedback from inbound and outbound logistics, operations, marketing, sales, and service. These processes drive requirements for infrastructure and human resources – key factors in the bottom line. Network, processes, and human resources have their own driving factors and risks. Performance metrics such as sales, inventory availability, and on-time-in-full manage these risks. However, an enterprise-wide picture that allows good decision making at all levels cannot be built unless the base structure and connectivity is right, and this is where DT comes to the fore.
Rapid or iterative change?
As with core design and manufacturing processes, misalignment of the supply chain and poor feedback can lead to a lack of coordination, predictability, resilience, and consistency. Internal supply chains are often intermittent and disconnected processes with a mix of manual, automated, and virtual elements. Replacing these with a continuous, interactive, holistic, and integrated process is not always possible, and iterative, evolutionary change can create inertia. Disruptive technologies can bring revolutionary change.
For those who are unwilling to take the radical and major steps that GE officials are considering, innovative boards of directors can drive change forward by aligning strategic goals with supply chain plans and operations. Subsequent steps include ensuring full visibility of the physical, financial, and information supply chains and identifying and allocating costs throughout. This will enable planners to quickly examine alternative scenarios and evaluate the financial impact of proposed actions, giving insight that supports informed decisions.
Evolution not revolution
A customized whole-enterprise DT solution is more a revolution than an evolution, and a large program brings its own risks for failure. Introducing capability as each step of the iterative change is undertaken may prove less risky. This option also may be more comfortable for all concerned in such a fundamental change program.
IFS provides such capability with a solution based on modular building blocks that can be scaled to match business needs – from companies such as GE that use IFS aerospace and defense products to smaller manufacturing and supply chain enterprises and defense organizations.
Once these internal supply chain processes are right, the enterprise will be well on the way to engaging with and implementing DT, and will be more resilient and agile, enabling it to address external supply chain risks.
Are you ready to join the Digital Thread revolution?
About the author: Jeff Pike is head of strategy and marketing for the IFS A&D Center of Excellence and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.