Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Southwick, Hampden County, Massachusetts

B & E Precision Aircraft Components looks to build staff, grow with industry

December 11, 2013 - Southwick - Staff photo by Michael S. Gordon 
The quality control team B & E Precision Aircraft Components from left: Lisa Gagnon, Tony DiSantis, Paul Terpos, Tim Bliven and Steve Bates. 

SOUTHWICK - A 30-pound block of aluminum arrives at B & E Precision Aircraft Parts here and leaves 12 weeks later as a fuel supply part for a jet engine weighing just 5 or 6 pounds.

In that time, the aluminum gets tested, measured, bored and machined then tested and measured again. Then, it gets deburred, smoothed to a buttery softness and polished to a mirror finish before it's packaged and shipped.

All this work is for a really fancy carburetor that looks like a maze of tiny notches, slots and tunnels which helps keep a jet in the air.

"There is no room for error in aircraft parts. None," says Anthony G. DiSantis, quality control manager at B & E Precision.

The machine shop, with its 103 employees, had a good 2013 and is looking for an even better years 2015 to 2020 as aircraft like those new jetliners go from design and testing to full production , according to company president Glenn Ford,. The precision machine shop is one division of the larger B & E Group which has offices in Westfield and Florida.

The machine shop is a maze of activity with robots placing parts on machine tools and people setting up the work and telling the robots what to do. Nearby are airplane parts, including a small bracket that breaks away when a pilot hits a bird on takeoff or landing.

"We get a lot of them back to be repaired," Ford explained to a recent visitor. "Planes hit birds from time to time."

Elsewhere in the factory are stacks of heavy, U-shaped joints used to hold rotors on Sikorsky helicopters. The rotors are, of course, the part that keeps the aircraft up as well as moving in any direction.

Aircraft manufacturers like Airbus and Boeing are coming out with new planes to help airlines replace aging fleets. Jet engine manufacturers, like the Pratt & Whitney division of United Technologies, in East Hartford, Conn., and General Electric are ordering parts from shops like B & E and not manufacturing them in-house.

"It think you'll see a great next few years in the aircraft industry," he said. "All these new platforms are great for us."

He's even hopeful that the long-stalled Joint Strike Fighter project, the F-35, will finally go into full production. B & E manufactures fuel-control parts for the new fighter.

Airlines, too, are looking for new and more efficient engines for existing aircraft, said Jim Gastringer, vice president of operations at B & E precision aircraft parts.

"Efficiency is huge," Gastringer said. " If you can squeeze a few percentage-points of savings out of jet engine you are using to fly from here to Los Angeles, that is a lot of savings. It's worth it for the airlines."

It's also worth it for B & E to manufacture those parts here, either for Pratt in Connecticut or for General Electric jet engine factories in Ohio, said Ford. For one thing, B & E is here with millions in machine tools. For another, it's got a workforce of highly-trained and experienced technicians and, increasingly, programs in area trade schools designed to bolster that staff.

But, it is expensive to do business in Western Massachusetts. Ford pointed to rows of parts that are among B & E's last runs of a certain product. The future work is going overseas, he said.

"We bought a new machine to do that part, they knew it and they took the job away," he said.

Not only overseas, but regional hot spots of aircraft-parts manufacturing are starting to open in other areas of the U.S., including in the Carolinas and in the West.

To compete, B & E gets more efficient. That explains the robots and what Ford calls "lights out" manufacturing. That's a machine a technician sets up in the evening and lets run all night while only other parts of the factory are staffed. in the morning the parts are ready.

Production workers at B & E start off at salaries of $30,000 a year and can earn up to $80,000.

"At any given time, I'd say we have 30 percent of our workforce learning, 40 percent really well-trained to produce and the remaining top-level employees, those are your trainers. Those are your masters, and we have to take advantage of them," Ford said

Ford said B & E also works with the region's vocational high schools.

in the office, steps from the factory floor are Artem Krapova and his sister, Ella Krapova. Both are recent graduates of Westfield Vocational Technical High School .

"I set everything up and design the job in three dimensions," Ella Krapova said. "It's a great job. I love what i do."

Story, photo gallery, comments/reaction:   http://www.masslive.com

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