Customer and supplier intimacy allow Astronics AES to maintain quality while solving complex issues in the aerospace market.
By Staci Davidson, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Media
Airlines today not only want to get passengers to their destination quickly and safety, but also keep them comfortable while doing so. As a result, airlines look to aerospace OEMS to provide planes that are safe, but also to provide useful features that aid the passenger journey. Astronics Advanced Electronic Systems (AES) is a key partner to these manufacturers, supplying airframe manufacturers and airlines with in-seat power products that provide the flying public with a greater value for their travel dollars. Further, Astronics AES approaches its work with a collaborative spirit and innovation, which has made it a leader in its field for nearly 50 years.
“When we talk to customers, we explain it like this: The next time you fly, recognize that it is -40 degrees outside and you are traveling at 500 miles per hour,” Astronics AES President Mark Peabody says. “There are several hundred systems keeping you alive, comfortable, entertained and flying through this harsh environment. Astronics AES is the expert in providing power to those systems. We work with all the major airframe manufacturers, airlines and other industry OEMs to provide the power systems used by passengers, crews and aircraft flight operators.”
The history of Astronics AES dates back to 1958 in Seattle when, for a couple of decades, it focused on the small specialty power supply business, primarily with items like rugged computer power supplies, windshield temperature controllers and voltage detectors. The product offering expanded in the 1980s with system-level power and test systems, including a complete worldwide power system with back-up power for the U.S. Marines, the B-1B weapons test system and several commercial aircraft power conversion products. In the late 1990s, the company introduced its aircraft in-seat power system, EmPower, as well as the CorePower product line, a complete power generation and distribution system for small aircraft.
Today, EmPower products have an approximate 90 percent market share and fly on more than 250 airlines worldwide. EmPower products provide passengers with the convenience of in-seat charging for smart phones, laptops, tablets and other devices. Based in Kirkland, Wash., Astronics AES leads the industry in providing aircraft electrical power systems – including power generation and distribution – and in-seat power systems. In addition to serving commercial aircraft, the company works with business aircraft, rotorcraft and military platforms.
“We serve all sectors of the aviation power market – the OEMS, the in-flight entertainment (IFE) integrators and also sell directly to more than 250 airlines,” Peabody explains. “All of our customers expect us to keep their passengers and crew safe and powered at all times. This includes 100 percent performance in quality acceptance and on-time delivery performance, as well as robust installed product, with a fast turn-around in our FAA Repair Station for any required product modifications. The industry primarily defines quality through the AS 9100 specification, flowed down from the OEMs through all of the sub-tier relationships.”
Tightly Knit Network
Astronics AES maintains its leadership position in the industry by working closely with customers and suppliers to solve complex challenges. It is this innovative and collaborative spirit that enables the company’s ongoing growth, remaining focused on quality, partnership and energetic global vision. This dedication to collaboration is facilitated by the Astronics AES Supply Chain team’s focus on a core set of high performing primary and sub-tier suppliers, according to Director of Supply Chain Beverly Rechkoff.
“We have formed a tightly knit supplier network in which we flow the authorized sourcing on both the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) manufacturers and the build-to-print (BTP) sub-tier suppliers to our contract manufacturers (CMs),” she explains. “We develop long-term agreements with many of those BTP sub-tier suppliers and provide that information to our CMs. The result is that we have developed a strong supplier network. When we visit these suppliers and hold business reviews, we collect and report on both objective data and subjective performance feedback within the network, with the intent on identifying and mitigating any potential risks. “
These long term relationships, she notes, have become more important as lead times on components have stretched out. Astronics AES maintains global supply networks and can shift its supply to different regions depending on the economic or political conditions, but the relationships with each supplier in the chain remain key. “Over the years, our company has become far less vertical and much more focused on working with a small set of high-performing first- and second-tier suppliers,” Rechkoff says. “We’ve developed competition in each of our key spend areas without diluting our clout and to reduce overall risk. We’ve put resources into our supply chain’s new product introduction process to ensure that design for manufacturing and single sourcing is addressed earlier. We also team up with an increased level of Component Engineering and Product Support staff to define component alternatives.”
“Astronics AES is one of 11 Astronics subsidiaries,” she adds. “This is a distinct advantage because we can also connect with our peers in sister subsidiaries, analyzing consolidated spend, comparing supply chains and taking advantage of strategic relationships. As a whole company, we continue to look for ways to leverage our overall spend.”
Internally, Astronics AES has been ramping up its lean journey, and last year it started to connect some of its key suppliers to its consumption by sending automated “e-Kanban” signals for them to ship the next box of parts. Rechkoff explains this signal relies upon two key ingredients for success: a master agreement to define the business relationship, as well as a mixture of forecasts and purchase orders with which the suppliers procure the components. This year, Astronics AES plans to grow the number of parts and suppliers linked this way to its production. When they work on processes to improve material flow into their production cells, they hold kaizen events which include related suppliers.
Supply Chain Alignment
Strong relationships continue to drive Astronics AES’ success, and the company plans to maintain these throughout its supply chain as it moves forward. These tight relationships lead to co-collaboration efforts with suppliers for improvements in tooling and production processes that reduce cost, reduce waste, and deliver products to customers faster.
“Our company’s culture has been one of customer intimacy, and we extend this to our suppliers,” Rechkoff explains. “We look for suppliers who are aligned with Astronics AES in their focus on passion, teamwork, humility, learning and life. We use multiple channels of supplier communication to build on relationships within our organization. Supply Chain partners with Supplier Quality Engineering and Manufacturing Engineering when we jointly audit suppliers, hold business reviews and drive corrective actions or supplier process improvements. The company’s ongoing focus on collaboration and relationships help it meet customer demand, she says.
“Every two years, we bring these suppliers together for a two day Supplier Conference held near the Astronics AES facility,” she notes. “Astronics AES Supply Chain uses this forum to provide a consistent message to suppliers and drive alignment for AES customer satisfaction.”