As a contract manufacturer of aerospace components and assemblies, Sun Country Industries knows how critical its job is in the overall aerospace industry.
“There is a continuous emphasis on quality in our industry,” explains Lee Erickson, senior vice president and general manager. “One of our customers had a meeting recently about a ‘supplier call to action’ where they wanted to make certain all suppliers were involved in delivering a quality product that our customer can sell to their customers. It involves accountability, commitment, employee involvement, analytics and prevention.”
As an ISO 9001:2008- and AS 9100C-certified manufacturer, Sun Country Industries has the management system in place to ensure its customers are getting the quality parts they need. The company manufactures products used throughout the jet aircraft engine, complex aircraft control assemblies, structural aircraft components and parts used in technology applications and medical equipment, among others. Sun Country has experience machining virtually all ferrous and non-ferrous materials and some composites. Examples of materials include all stainless steels, titanium, inconel, hastalloy and other high-nickel heat-resistant aircraft alloys as well as aluminum and alloy steels. Tolerances are routinely held to .0005 inches.
The manufacturer leverages lean and Six Sigma techniques to manufacture finished components and assemblies for jet engines, helicopters, aviation controls, and medical and scientific markets. Within the company’s three facilities encompassing 43,000 square feet, Sun Country Industries has set up manufacturing cells to streamline its processes.
“We have several cells set up where one man is operating multiple machines, and throughout the facility equipment is arranged so that one man can operate at least two pieces of equipment at the same time,” Erickson says. “Using lean and Six Sigma has led to improved productivity, giving our customers cost savings and on-time delivery while ensuring we are producing a quality product.”
Because Sun Country Industries specializes in precision products with close tolerances, the company has a system of checks and balances to control the process from beginning to end. It’s invested in several multi-axis machining centers and the company’s in-house engineers use Siemens UGS NX to design processes and program its own CNC equipment. Its state-of-the-art equipment includes:
- 15 5-axis milling centers
- 9 4-axis CNC milling centers
- 11 3-axis CNC milling centers
- 22 CNC turning centers
- 13 EDMs
“We create our own programs for our CNC machines, including related setup sheets, instructions and sketches,” Erickson says. “We do the kitting for both the milling department and the lathe department and we have people dedicated to collecting all needed tools, programs and fixtures so that when we get a new customer or set up a new job, it can be done expeditiously.”
Each production release includes a workstation planning book with checklists of everything the operator needs at the machine.
The company also uses process control log data to ensure defective-free products. Proactively tracking its work allows the company to detect issues and correct them early on. Erickson says it is a method that touches every area of its operation.
“Within the last year, we put in a new business management system,” Erickson says. “We hired a quality assurance consulting company and they helped us bring our system in line with the new AS 9100-C revision, which is the latest revision. It applies to customer relations. It applies to human resources. It applies to training. It addresses risk management. It encompasses just about everything that we do. We now have a much better understanding of our processes and a much clearer direction going forward.”
Expanding its Reach
Going forward, Erickson says he sees growth in Sun Country Industries’ future. The company makes thousands of parts a year and employs 60 people. That number is well below its 2008 high of 150 employees. Erickson says the company has been level for some time, but it recently signed new business and expects more in the near future.
Erickson explains that Sun Country Industries’ strategy to win new business is to make potential customers aware of its specialties that set it apart from the competition. These include the company’s multi-axis machining capabilities, high-level assembly capabilities and NADCAP special processes.
“We recently completed long-term negotiations with a major customer, which should increase our long-term revenue by about 20 percent,” Erickson estimates. “We’re also planning to bring on new customers, maybe three to five new customers or more. We hired a corporate marketing person to help us increase our new business.
“We’re going to focus on our core capabilities and our specialized capabilities in an effort to increase business with current customers and bring in new customers,” he adds.