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Manufacturing executives in small-to-mid-size enterprises face a variety of operational hurdles in this tenuous economy, such as flat budgets, peaks and valleys of workflow, quality demands, lack of employee expertise in specific disciplines and keeping up with technical training. Whether production is boon or bane, survival of the fittest depends on business creativity and customization.
With a realistic assessment of the value within the organization and by prioritizing people, processes and performance to consistently render a high-quality product, a manufacturer can tactically size up challenges and reach for practical solutions when a new opportunity appears, or operational demands exceed in-house talent.
Coast Aerospace Manufacturing-with its resourceful approach to building and sustaining an agile enterprise-is one such company. Based in Placentia, CA, Coast Aerospace is a turnkey engineering, design and build-to-print manufacturer. The certified ISO9001:2000/AS9100 company specializes in tool design, engineering, machining and fabrication. It runs the gamut of tier-one original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in aerospace, military, commercial, industrial and the entertainment market.
In its 57,000-square-foot facility, Coast has churned out both designs and fabrications, enabling the manufacturer to control the prompt delivery of end products. Coast applies years of combined experience to small and large fabrication of ground support, proof load and functional testing, SE and GSE tool refurbishment, precision aerospace machining of flight hardware, major assemblies and a variety of services for systems, hydraulic and pneumatic applications and electronics.
Creating AgilityOutsourcing is not a novel concept to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and the sub-tiers of contract manufacturers serving them. In the quality control arena, the lack of trained and qualified metrologists continues to be an industry-wide concern. By partnering with Hexagon Metrology Services (HMS), Coast Aerospace augments its inspection and measurement requirements for field operations at customer sites or in-house capacity when it is needed.
To maintain maximum productivity on the shop floor, the company’s measurement and inspection department must run at full tilt with no disruptions. Coast employs three metrologists trained in 3-D measurement technologies and the use of high-precision Leica laser trackers. The portable coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) are utilized for dimensional control applications within a large measurement volume, such as tooling, part mating, assembly and other inspection operations. The technicians use the laser trackers on the shop floor to acquire 3-D data, and evaluate and set critical features on parts, molds and tooling.
With 15 to 20% of its business focused on repairing parts and tooling, Coast also wants to keep its two Brown & Sharpe CMMs at operational capacity. The machines have measuring volumes of 1,500 millimeters by 3,000 millimeters by 1,000 millimeters and 400 by 500 by 400 millimeters, respectively. Well-versed in the use of PC-DMIS inspection software, the company’s quality control team provides services for measurement, quality control, digitizing and reverse engineering. Leveraging in-house metrology capabilities to ensure customer parts, fixtures and tooling are up to par with technical specifications translates into a profit center for Coast’s business.
Coast’s ability to supplement its staff has essentially doubled its output. One of the advantages of working with a large OEM is its breadth of worldwide application expertise and latest-generation metrology equipment. Hexagon Metrology serves more than 125 distinct industries with its products and full range of services, including temporary to full-time staffing contracts, tailored training programs, system integration, custom programming, contract inspection and reverse engineering. Beyond the typical product support services, the company is active in deploying in-house expertise to make a customer’s operations more effective and productive.
Using a small-scale line of attack, Coast Aerospace has effectively tapped into Hexagon’s experts for a variety of tasks from precision inspection to the manufacture, verification and repair of tooling. More importantly, the employment of these resources has enabled Coast to build a quick response mechanism for its customer’s on-site needs. Instead of pulling crucial resources, master technicians from Hexagon can be deployed when necessary.
Finding the Expertise OverlapPooling expertise on a small scale was a launching pad for Coast to realize that it could go bigger if the opportunity knocked on its door-and it did. One of Coast’s aerospace customers approached it with a highly time-sensitive project with incremental deadlines to keep assembly operations on track. Coast’s piece of the project entailed fabricating new, large-scale assembly tools, as well as refurbishing older tools for a large cargo aircraft. The responsibility of bringing six large tools up to quality-assurance-ready buy-off in less than three months was formidable, leaving roughly five weeks per overhaul. The overall project spanned more than one year and involved several hundred tooling, engineering, design and inspection personnel.
Coast could manage the project, but needed more capacity; more skilled tooling people; more laser tracking systems and additional, hard-to-find inspection experts. Louis Ponce, president of Coast Aerospace Manufacturing, reached out to a proven partner, but this time on a much larger scale.
Coast Aerospace won the contract as a third party and enlisted the support of Hexagon Metrology Services. Coast’s project manager would run the project on-site.
“In this situation, we needed more support people to join our seven teams working around the clock,” Ponce says. “I was looking for fresh help, but they had to be top quality experts who can come up-to-speed very fast. One of the main benefits of working with Hexagon Metrology is their precision centers are located in close proximity to major manufacturing centers. As a leading OEM of metrology solutions, their equipment is on-hand for immediate access and their people are trained on the equipment for application specific tasks.”
Hexagon Metrology Inc.
4Coast’s human resource needs continued to grow, and merging expertise was critical. At the height of the project, 10 Hexagon specialists were brought into the fold
4Hexagon Metrology employs metrology experts who can quickly familiarize themselves with a client’s operations.
4Hexagon’s supplementing of Coast Aerospace Manufacturing’s staff has essentially doubled Coast’s output.