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Orbital ATK: State-of-the-Art Aerospace, Defense and Communications Products

  • April 12, 2015

Manufacturers in the aerospace, defense, and communications sector do more than keep Americans safe and secure, and allow us explore the frontiers of space. They also are major employers. You may not be familiar with Orbital ATK, but the company’s economic footprint is substantial. It has facilities in 20 states, and has a highly trained global workforce of about 12,500 people.

Its ammunition plant in Missouri can produce 1.4 billion rounds of small-caliber ammunition in a year. It also produces ammunition in Radford, Virginia. Nobody in the United States makes more small-caliber ammunition.

The firm also makes missile propulsion systems and combat-tested aircraft survivability systems. The company has 300 long-range missile defense interceptors and target systems completed or under contract.

In 2015, the company celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Pegasus air-launched rocket. Following the rocket’s introduction, the development team was honored with the National Medal of Technology from President George H. W. Bush and the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum Trophy.

Orbital ATK manufactures satellites in Beltsville, Maryland; and has a missile products group based in Baltimore. The corporate headquarters is in Dulles, Virginia.

The company’s impressive capabilities have been assembled over a period of time. In the years before Orbital and ATK merged, ATK had purchased key divisions from Hercules Aerospace, Honeywell, and Thiokol Propulsion – all with the determined goal to deliver innovative and affordable solutions to customers, including the U.S. military and NASA. A sports-products division was recently divested in order to sharpen the focus on core competencies.

Orbital ATK is also on the forefront of facilitating space exploration. It provided critical hardware for the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V vehicle that in 2015 launched four first-of-their-kind NASA satellites from Cape Canaveral. The program deploys four satellites that will use Earth’s magnetosphere as a lab to study the microphysics of plasma processes of space weather in near-Earth space: magnetic reconnection, energetic particle acceleration and turbulence.

Orbital ATK produced the 10-foot diameter composite heat shield. The assembly was made using advanced fiber placement manufacturing techniques at the company’s Iuka, Mississippi, plant. It was the 53rd Atlas V launch using Orbital ATK-built composite structures.

The story of Orbital ATK is a reminder that much of the world's most advanced aerospace, defense, and communications R&D and manufacturing is done in America.

Donaldson Company: The First Word in Advanced Filtration Technologies for American Military Aircraft

  • September 12, 2014

When American service men and women fly military aircraft is desert environments, they depend upon advanced filtration technologies to protect them from dust, dirt, and other environmental hazards.

Donaldson Company, a Bloomington, Minnesota-based manufacturer celebrating its Centennial in 2015, has developed some of the most advanced filtration technologies for military applications. Its engineers have solved advanced challenges ranging from dust collection to power generation to the purification of compressed air.

Donaldson has a long history of supporting the military. As far back as the 1950s, B-52 bombers used Donaldson’s catalytic air cleaners. A decade later, Donaldson introduced the first turbine-engine air particle separator system.

The record of innovation has continued in recent years, as Donaldson has developed advanced Inlet Barrier Filter systems (IBFs) that protect engines from airborne contamination. The latest versions reduce component erosion, extend engine life, reduce engine temperatures, save power for mission use, and require less maintenance. The company is now developing a new class of IBFs for Boeing MH-47G Chinooks.

To continually develop advances in airborne filtration system technologies, the company relies on a workforce that is heavily staffed with trained scientists, computer experts, statisticians, and engineers. Even while celebrating the Donaldson Company’s 100th anniversary, these employees are likely to remain challenged and busy for many more years to come.  

Della Williams of Williams RDM: A Small Manufacturer with a Big Role in Defense, Energy and Fire Suppresion

  • March 3, 2014

Small and mid-sized manufacturers are a vital part of the American economy, and one of the best examples is Williams RDM. Based in Forth Worth, this is a family-owned company that serves three distinct markets: Defense, energy, and fire suppression.

Williams RDM is led by Della Williams, who founded the business with her husband Bob in 1963. The company was known as Williams Pyro until it was re-branded in 2013. RDM is short for research, development, and manufacturing, which are the heart of the business.

At a celebratory event on a Saturday evening marking the re-branding, U.S. Congresswoman Kay Granger was on hand, and spoke to the underappreciated role women CEOs are playing at defense-related businesses. In the case of Williams RDM, the company produces cables, connectors and test equipment. They are used on the F-15 all-weather tactical fighter and numerous other planes. With an advanced design and the use of commonly available batteries, they save taxpayer dollars.

A second focus of the business pertains to energy. Williams RDM provides high-pressure, high-temperature connectors for drilling operations.

The third business segment is fire suppression. Since 1972, Williams has made the StoveTop FireStop® product, which protects millions of families from kitchen fires. One version attaches under vent hoods, while another goes under microwave ovens. Since cooking fires can spread with shocking speed, these products can be true live savers.

Craig Walters, who is a vice president at the company, has worked there for well over 30 years. “One of the things I appreciate most about our company is a part of the company culture driven by Della herself – an unstoppable tenacity. In all the years I’ve been here, the thing I’m most proud of is that when we choose to start something, we always finish it. We do what we promise and we do it right. There’s never any question about it.”

Walters and his coworkers are not the only ones who appreciate Della Williams’ tenacity and the company’s commitment to the highest levels of quality. With customers like Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Halliburton, and Boeing, Williams RDM has carved out an important niche in manufacturing.

Lockheed Missiles & Fire Control: Precision and Quality

  • November 29, 2013


PAC-3 Missile

More than 4,400 people work at the Lockheed Missiles and Fire Control plant, outside of Orlando. The plant is part of the Missiles and Fire Control (MFC) division that is headquartered near Dallas. In total, MFC employs 10,000 people in eleven states, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Between February and November 2013 alone, MFC received $840 million in contracts from the U.S. military and U.S. allies like South Korea and Saudi Arabia. MFC provides missiles, fighter-jet weapons-targeting radar systems, missile launch detectors, electro-optical fire-control systems for helicopters, flight-training systems, and war-gaming training, among other products and services.

In 2012, MFC received the highly coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. MFC’s return on investment had grown at a 23 percent compound annual rate, compared to a 13.7 percent rate at its nearest industry competitor. Its operating margin over 11 years had a compound annual growth rate of 6.2 percent.

Focused on continual improvement, MFC used a lean-manufacturing process called value-stream mapping to evaluate 8,500 processes from 2000 to 2012. This mapping covered 90 percent of the enterprise direct costs. The studies found that supplier on-time delivery had been near 100 percent. Time reductions associated with process and performance improvement saved an estimated average of $225 million per year. Facility uptime had been at 100 percent since 2007 despite nearly 2,000 potential disruptions. Equally impressive, MFC achieved a 99.4 percent on-time delivery record while experiencing a 1,000 percent growth in annual deliveries over the 11-year period.

Achieving these results requires a complex system of procedures that is followed carefully, coupled with a corporate culture that emphasizes excellence. The results are also a reflection on Lockheed’s supplier companies, who manufacture precision parts to specification and deliver them on schedule.

The work of defense contractors and their suppliers is becoming ever-more difficult in an era of scarce budget resources and sequestration. Companies like MFC will continue to be challenged to push the limits on productivity and budget efficiency without compromising product reliability, quality and timeliness. As an essential foundation of the U.S. industrial base, the success of MFC and other defense contractors in meeting that challenge will be critically important.

Yet, it’s important at the end of the day to remember that defense contractors, like all manufacturers, are people. And in that regard, it’s worth noting that MFC employees donate, on average, more than $2 million per year to charities in their home communities. That is just another reason that Lockheed Missiles and Fire Control constitutes a Great Manufacturing Story.

To read other Great Manufacturing Stories, click here.

Boeing: World-Class Military Aircraft

  • September 10, 2011

Some of the world’s most sophisticated military aircraft come from the City of Brotherly Love. Boeing employs 6,000 people at its military aircraft design and manufacturing center in Philadelphia. The facility is undergoing a $130 million investment that will make it a global model for lean manufacturing.

The facility makes both the H-47 Chinook and V-22 Osprey. First designed 54 years ago, the Chinook helicopter has been called the workhorse of the United States army. The Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, first deployed by the U.S. Marines in 2000, combines the vertical-rise maneuverability of a helicopter with the speed performance of a turboprop. In its first 11 years of service, the Osprey has been used in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Boeing’s major investment in lean manufacturing in Philadelphia, coupled with continuous improvement in product design and the nation’s first privately-owned wind tunnel, make this a Great Manufacturing Story with a very bright future.