Issue Sept Oct14
Unison Industries has grown from a world-class ignition company whose products reliably start more than 100,000 aircraft engines daily into a worldwide leader in aviation technology offering both electrical and mechanical products.
“Our ability to build a technologically differentiated product that is far superior in its technology, reliability or quality is what sets us apart,” Chief Marketing Officer Scott Searles says. “We differentiate ourselves on technology and speed to market. We develop rapid prototype products faster than our competitors.”
Unison Industries began in 1980 as a manufacturer of ignition systems for piston aircraft engines. The Jacksonville, Fla.-based company introduced the world’s first solid-state turbine ignition system in 1988 and acquired Bendix Aircraft Ignition one year later to become the market leader for turbine ignition systems.
Today, Unison Industries is the leading global supplier of complex gas turbine engine components and electrical and mechanical systems. It is a supplier to nearly every aircraft engine and airframe program, providing the most advanced performance solutions for a wide variety of markets, including commercial aviation, business and general aviation, and most recently, power generation and oil and gas.
Unison Industries has increased its research and development budget 45 percent over the past two years to focus on offering new products that will enhance engines as a way to grow the company. “Since the mid-2000s, we adopted the method of protecting our core business, which resulted growth rates around the industry rate,” Searles says. “We recognize the importance of investing in research and development and that will continue as our products mature and we look to invest in new products.”
President Giovanni Spitale explains that one of the company’s latest products is LifeBoost™ Solutions System, which increases the life of locomotive batteries by putting the majority of the loading on a super capacitor bank. “It’s a unique way to take electricity and pulse it,” Searles explains. “Our launch customers are rail operators that have problems with batteries in harsh environments where batteries are wearing down too quickly resulting in ‘dead won’t start’ events for the locomotive. The system provides energy during the start sequence that results in a significant decrease in the voltage drop on the battery, which substantially prolongs battery life.”
Unison Industries also recently developed an air-cooled oil cooler application for helicopters that can eliminate fans and brick-style engine and gearbox oil coolers. The patented process cools the oil to improve the efficiency of the whole engine, Searles notes.
One of the ways Unison is creating these new products is by additive manufacturing or 3-D printing. “Parts are built layer by layer, resulting in products that are 40 to 60 percent lighter,” Searles says. “By utilizing our industry leading engineering team, new processes give us an enduring advance on our competitors when it comes to quickly brining new products to the market.”
Filling the Gap
Unison Industries looks to the market – and what companies will pay – when developing technological advances for aircraft engines. “We build a minimally viable product to see if it works and after we feel we have a good product, our engineering team is in charge of developing the manufacturing process to build the unit,” Searles explains.
After the manufacturing process is developed, Unison Industries’ supply chain leaders take control to ensure a high-quality product is produced using lean manufacturing principles. “We are really good at developing products and rapid prototyping them, but when we transition into production, we are seeing an initial lag in on-time performance,” Searles says. “We are making a big push to understand that and improve our production processes earlier in the cycle.”
To overcome this challenge, Unison Industries has implemented the Lean Six Sigma managerial concept that results in the elimination of waste: defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion and extra-processing. “The Lean Six Sigma ensures quality and production is high, but we also have an executive committee looking at our processes to see if there are simpler ways to ensure the same quality,” Searles adds. “Maybe it’s a simple thing like putting all the parts right next to the person so he can quickly put the pieces together. We are looking at low-hanging fruit, but simplifying will go a long way in reducing lead-time.”
One of the main challenges in Unison Industries’ manufacturing process is that its product line changes often based on the aircraft engine. “We try and make products as common as possible in the initial stages, then we send it to different cells in the manufacturing process to complete the new product,” Searles says.
As Unison Industries maintains its focus on offering new technologically advanced products to enhance aircraft engines, it will continue building an optimal manufacturing process for greater efficiency and shorter lead-times. “We recognize that in the aviation sector, our core products are not where we are going to see the growth rates we want,” Searles adds. “Instead, we work on developing new products that no one else does and we are looking to grow our business.”