Assembly Blog


'Manufacturing Day' Dispels Myths and Opens Eyes

October 11, 2013

The 2nd annual Manufacturing Day was held nationwide last Friday. Hundreds of manufacturers around the United States opened their doors to high school students to give them a glimpse into the world of 21st century production processes.

The goal of the grassroots effort is to revise manufacturing’s image in local communities and develop the workforce of tomorrow by encouraging kids to pursue careers in engineering, machining, welding and everything in between.

I spent part of the day visiting Woodward Inc., a leading aerospace supplier based in Loves Park, IL, a suburb of Rockford. The $2 billion company is on a growth spurt and expects to double its workforce over the next decade.

Until recently, Woodward was known as Woodward Governor Co. The 143-year-old firm traces its roots to mechanical waterwheel governors. Over the years, the company evolved to produce power management controls for steam engines, hydroelectric turbines, diesel engines, piston aircraft engines and jet aircraft engines.

Today, the company operates two main business units that are divided evenly between the aerospace and energy industries. Woodward specializes in metering units for controlling turbomachinery efficiency and optimizing aircraft propulsion systems.

Billy Kent, an upbeat Woodward engineer, briefed attendees with an overview of the company and its business philosophy, including a splashy video. He also passed around some of the precision parts that go into its products, such as valves, actuators and housings, so that attendees could see them up close.

Kentexplained how a variety of aluminum and stainless steel parts are designed, machined and assembled. Finished products are the shipped to engine manufacturers such as General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce for use in all sorts of commercial and military aircraft.

According to Kent, every two seconds, aircraft around the world take off with Woodward controls onboard. And, thanks to new commercial jetliners such as the Airbus A320neo, the Boeing 737 MAX and the Boeing 787, Woodward is currently gearing up for the future.

“Woodward is a strong company with long-term growth,” said Kent. “Future growth will be driven by more aircraft demand and increased emissions reductions. We need more materials engineers, mechanical engineers and electrical engineers.”

To get ready for future demand, Woodward recently opened a new 43,000-square-foot test facility next to its 72-year-old factory. The company has also made three strategic acquisitions in the past five years and is building a new 300,000-square-foot plant that will ramp up production around this time next year.

After the informative briefing, attendees split into several small groups and toured the plant floor. I tagged along with a group led by Dave Neupert, a mechanical engineer who’s been with Woodward for two decades. The tour included machining (Woodward makes about 40 percent of its parts in-house), heat treating, assembly, and test & inspection.

The majority of assembly activity takes place at individual workbenches, with operators adhering to lean manufacturing and six sigma principles. Because most of Woodward’s newer products feature electronic servo valves with no mechanical linkages, operators typically handle less than 200 parts per assembly. But, the company still makes traditional mechanical products—for use in legacy aircraft engines—that contain up to 10,000 parts each.

Did anyone else out there participate in Manufacturing Day this year? Did your company host a tour? How do you think Manufacturing Day can be improved in the future?

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