In its sprawling 1-million-square-foot Muskegon, Mich.,facility with 80 percent dedicated to manufacturing L-3 CPS develops and manufactures advanced propulsion systems for defense applications. The leading products of Combat Propulsion Systems are engines, transmissions, turret drives and suspension systems. Since being acquired by L-3 in 2005, the CPS product lines have contributed to the corporation’s position as the nation’s sixth-largest defense contractor.

Whether it’s for turret drives for the Bradley vehicle, engines for the Hercules Recovery Vehicle or components for the Abrams main battle tank, L-3 CPS provides key products for essential vehicles in the United States’ defense arsenal, says Bruce Weinberg, vice president of production and delivery. L-3 CPS products are placed in vehicles made by big-name contractors, such as General Dynamics Land Systems and BAE.

The company’s current product line applies to tracked and wheeled vehicles, but L-3 CPS is working with new technologies that will allow it to expand into air and sea vehicles. For instance, the company is developing the Wankel heavy-fuel (diesel, JP-8) engine, which is for aircraft and also has the potential to provide electric power to sea applications.

L-3 CPS bought the German company Magnet Motors, which provides technology for permanent magnet motors. We’re working to manufacture their types of products in the United States, Weinberg explains. It’s a recent technology that other people are trying to develop, and Magnet Motors has been working with it for more than 25 years. It’s become more popular with the trend toward hybrid power because they’re electric motors.

The continuous push for innovation at L-3 is spurred by the ever-changing defense industry, which requires top-notch products to keep the country safe. The cycle in defense goes up and down, Weinberg says. A recent review of our business cycle concluded a need to broaden our horizons to sustain our business base.

Weinberg says that L-3 CPS’ position in the industry as a supplier to prime contractors is an advantage for the company. It’s a win-win situation for us and our customers, because we’re not a prime to most contracts, he explains. We provide components. If the primes are competing, we try to provide them with our products, regardless of which prime wins.

Although it’s at the top of the industry, working in defense isn’t always easy. To ensure the country’s safety, the defense industry is constantly upping its standards for quality and production rates. We certainly have a number of challenges in our industry, which is in the process of changing dramatically both in size and in products, Weinberg explains. We live in an environment where our customers are much more demanding. I call it the McDonald’s effect. A customer wants to pull up to our window to order our products, then pull up to the next window and have it ready to go. But the products have long lifecycles and long development cycles. That’s the challenge we face in our industry.

L-3 CPS also keeps its products’ end-users in mind when manufacturing its products. Our customer wants quicker response, better value and the highest-quality goods he can get, which is really what we as a company are focused on, because we realize that the 19-year-old soldier who uses our product has to get up every morning in whatever adversarial environment he is in, and it has to work the first time and every time, Weinberg states.

Although defense is always a constant, it’s not immune to market changes like other industries. The market is changing by the speed that you must deliver your products and the diversity of products our customers are demanding, Weinberg says. We’re developing numerous products and processes that assist us in that endeavor.

L-3 CPS recently began implementing Lean Six Sigma tools into its manufacturing processes in an effort to reduce waste and increase production. One of the major initiatives that we’ve put into our business is Lean Six Sigma, which is a process control and elimination of waste method that has been fostered and written about by Toyota, Ford and numerous benchmark industries, Weinberg explains. We’ve eliminated a significant amount of waste in our current processes, and in many cases, results have improved our quality significantly. It allows us to perform our process more efficiently as a result of those techniques and tools.

For example, we did a lean process in our transmission business that allowed us to increase first-time yield at the test station by 50 percent, to where we are 93 percent or better each and every month. We’ve eliminated waste by 30 percent to realize a 25 percent reduction in cost to build a product.

Diverse History

The history of CPS started in 1905 when a Chicago engine manufacturer looked for a location to build his products.The Muskegon Chamber of Commerce sponsored the business in return for jobs.This is the first time an engine was separate from the platform. These engines were the foundation for cars, mail trucks, lifts trucks, etc. The commercial business existed through the 1980s and then wasforced to close due to the economical downturn.

In the 1940s, this same business was selected for the production of ground combat vehicle engines. The foundation of this engine still exists today with numerous modifications. Long gone is the gasoline model transformed to diesel and the output has gone from 750 to 1500 horsepower. In the 1990s, significant diversification took place by integrating transmissions, turret drives, suspensions and tank components into the business base. Today, the diversification efforts continue in order to broaden this historical company’s business base.