The aerospace industry experienced turbulence – economic ups and downs – in the last decade. Through the storm, Koss Aerospace kept destination in sight. Flight mission: to be the best-in-class supplier to some of the most important aircraft programs.
Based in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, Koss is one of its industry’s most innovative players. It reduces costs while increasing efficiencies.
In an era when cost and efficiencies are placed front and center, the company’s implementation of flex cell manufacturing has married these two important aspects into a highly successful 21st-century program for some of the industry’s biggest names (e.g., Boeing and Bombardier).
Flex manufacturing cell allows operators to switch parts seamlessly, without breaks in the process. Thus, it maximizes machine usage. That’s an important consideration – as Koss competes with low labor-cost countries such as China. Notes Alex Cajic, vice president of business development: “We can run a third shift without an operator while the plant is closed. Many OEMs turn to countries with lowered cost resulting from labor expense. By implementing this automation, we reduce labor costs. This enables us to compete on any level.”
As far as how customers are impacted, the efficiencies created through flex cell enable quicker turnaround times and greater quality. With 5-axis machining centers equipped with automated pallet systems capable of running lights out, Koss delivers an extraordinary level of productivity at every step of the manufacturing process.
Currently, Koss is involved in supplying aerospace programs such as the Bombardier C Series (constructing structural components for doors) and the Lear85 business jet (manufacturing structural components on the fuselage and wing).
“It’s a rare and exciting time for a strengthened Aerospace industry. Customers tell us they’ll be ramping up existing programs,” reports Cajic.
For example, Boeing sells a record number of planes for the 737. How does Koss contribute? For its OEM clients, the company provides a core competency of supplying aircraft ribs and spars, floor and cross beans, bulkheads, seat tracks, and stringers – as well as various landing gear components, structural parts and winglets.
Koss Aerospace is also recognized for its expertise in high-speed machining. By utilizing state-of-the-art technology, its machining capabilities range from small, simple 3-axis components to large complex 5-axis components (up to 10-foot length). Further, Koss works with aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, and aluminum-lithium. Rounding out manufacturing capabilities, Koss boasts CNC milling and CNC turning, up to 24 inches.
In addition, Koss engineering technology (capable of designing advanced tooling and fixtures) enables it to read and interpret native CATIA files with the latest Dassault Systems software. Its CNC verification software simulates, verifies, and optimizes NC tool paths – making any Koss manufactured part a model of the latest innovative thinking. It’s all invented, realized and put together by people who live and breathe aerospace design 24/7.
Stratospheric Ascent Interrupted
Koss was headed for the stratosphere, but industry downturns diverted its upward trajectory. The first occurred on September 11, 2001 (no need to go into details) and the second happened during the 2008 economic downturn.
Cajic describes a specific impact: “The 2008 downturn negatively affected the business jet business – especially the smaller business jets [Lear and Cessna].”
However, larger ones remained strong, and that helped Koss navigate its way through the storm. “We remained strong during the downturn, with a substantial level of work on a global scale,” he relates.
But Cajic certainly doesn’t want to give the impression that the company didn’t feel the negative impact of the global circumstances. No industry was immune.
Still, the company remained airborne, thanks to innovative thought.
Koss leadership realized that operations and processes would have to be rethought. This led it into a “Lean” direction. “We didn’t want to reduce the workforce, so we implemented ‘Lean’ manufacturing in 2009,” Cajic recalls.
With set-up times always a big factor, Koss looked to make some changes (e.g., set-up times on the Bombardier Q400 – involving 20 different points – came down to one hour).
But it came down to minutes: Using a SMED (single minute exchange of die), Koss filmed the time it took to set up the manufacturing cell and found a way to optimize set-up, reducing the downtime to 15 minutes.
Koss also upgraded its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and worked with Epicor, a leading ERP software provider, to implement a full ERP. The end result was more accurate information for data collection, enabling the company to carry far less inventory. The software also enabled Koss to accurately assess its current capacity and predict future requirements – an important measure for a company whose customers are keenly interested in capacity levels.
“We continuously work on overall equipment effectiveness, and we measure the performance of any given job, as far elements such as the operator and the machine,” says Cajic. “Thus, we know how efficient we are and if we’re meeting production times.”
For sure, this is one company that constantly monitors on-time performance and efficiency.
While its main facility focuses on machining and assembly, Koss, in the early 1990s, made a strategic move when it established its Brampton processing facility, an addition that offered comprehensive metal finishing services that include anodized chrome plating, passivation, cadmium plating, painting, aluminum heat treatment, shot peen, hard chromium plating and alodine, among other treatments. This development enabled Koss to perform its own processing, as opposed to subcontracting the work, which can be inefficient and expensive. It also enabled the company to become vertically integrated, from manufacturing through processing and assembly, which allowed it to take control of each step.
On the processing side, Koss Aerospace is in the midst of increasing its manufacturing facility by 40 percent because of industry ramp-up, which also allows the company to increase capabilities seamlessly and handle excess volume.
The company has come a long way from the founding by Cajic’s father, Drago. Today, Koss Aerospace maintains a flight plan that supplies a base of complex airframe components and subassemblies to international customers. A roster of highly skilled personnel produces parts that comprise an entire aviation structure.
With growth in Asia – and with airlines renewing their fleets, as older aircraft are retired – Koss is set to continue its ascent.
“Our goal is to work towards performance, to be the best in class and delivery, on time with quality and price,” Cajic asserts. “We know our competitors, and so we will continue to ensure that all systems are in place to deliver what we’ve promised to our customers.”