Pratt Exec: Aerospace Taking Off, Manufacturers Must Get on Board
The nation’s aerospace industry is taking off and Pratt & Whitney wants to make sure that as many Connecticut manufacturers as possible go along for the ride—if they can meet very high standards.
That’s according to Danny Di Perna, Pratt senior vice president, engineering and operations, who spoke to hundreds of Connecticut manufacturing executives—many of whom likely eager to partner with the aviation giant—at CBIA’s Made in Connecticut: 2014 Manufacturing Summit in Cromwell.
Pratt recently announced that it has 5,500 orders for its new PurePower geared turbofan engine, and expects to sell thousands more. Di Perna said the company is expecting its current $4 billion in spending with suppliers will soon to soon grow to between $6.5 billion and $7 billion.
“Pratt is growing like crazy,” said Di Perna. “It’s a very exciting time in terms of growth and opportunities. We are spending and we are investing to meet the demand.”
He cautioned that Pratt needs a reliable supply chain of manufacturers to keep up with the demand. For example, Pratt is ready for a “huge ramp up” in production for its F135 engines for the fighter aircraft.
“We’re ready to produce,” said Di Perna, “but some in the supply chain are not ready.”
He said Pratt manufactures about 20% of what’s needed to produce its engines, with the balance coming from other, smaller companies. So supply chain and logistics are critically important.
What Pratt looks for in suppliers is companies that are actively investing in the skills of their employees, in technology, quality, cost effectiveness, and lean operations.
And one more thing: “they have to have the highest ethical standards,” said Di Perna.
Aerospace is fiercely competitive, with Pratt’s local rivals General Electric among those “fighting tooth and nail” for business.
Di Perna said that Connecticut is the “center of gravity” for the aerospace industry, with some of the highest-tech manufacturers in the world. He lauded the recent agreement that United Technologies, Gov. Malloy and the legislature reached to keep Pratt and UTC in the state.
“Connecticut is UTC,” he said, “and UTC is Connecticut.”
Also critical to fuel Pratt’s booming growth is a skilled workforce. Pratt is working on that with its strong relationship with the University of Connecticut–where it has an additive manufacturing innovation center—and also with many of the state’s community colleges and technical schools.
“We need to get kids excited about manufacturing,” said Di Perna. “If we don’t bring them in, we’ll lose our skills base.”
Pratt expects its suppliers to share its priorities and make the same kinds of investments—not in the same dollar amounts, of course, but with the same commitment.
“We need your help,” said Di Perna. While Connecticut has many manufacturers who are making the right investments, others—what he called “dungeons”—are not. They “have no investments, no vision, no technology and support.”
And if a potential vendor can’t match up to Pratt’s expectations, “you leave us no option but to shop elsewhere.”
One of the Connecticut companies meeting Pratt’s standards and having a longstanding and successful relationship with the manufacturer is the Whitcraft Group.
A contract manufacturer of precision machined, formed, and fabricated parts and assemblies for Pratt and other large aerospace OEMs, Whitcraft has 430 Connecticut-based employees.
Colin Cooper, Whitcraft Group CEO, told the conference that today’s aerospace industry is “a mile wide and inch deep”—meaning that it’s highly complex, but relatively low volume.
He said that suppliers like Whitcraft are under very stringent cost, quality, and time requirements.
When working with large OEMs like Pratt,“You have to get acclimated to what they require.”
It’s also a fast-moving, changeable industry, with “a record amount of development,” said Cooper.
He said that the civil aviation market is set to double in passengers over the next 20 years, and all that engineering development is driving big and positive changes—in fuel savings, noise reduction, environmental emissions, and maintenance costs.
As a result, however, manufacturers are now working in an environment in which designs frequently change, many iterations of those designs often are necessary, schedules have to be malleable and engineering projects frequently concurrent.
“Despite the risks, it’s a very exciting time,” said Cooper.
With “real demand,” bigger volumes, and engine projects likely to run more than 20 years, that’s more than incentive enough for Whitcraft and other Connecticut manufacturers to meet the high standards set by Pratt—so they can get on board.
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