Super Stallion produced by Sikorsky Aircraft is the largest and heaviest helicopter used by the US Air Force. Sailors have nicknamed it the “Hurricane Maker” due to the power of the air flow generated by the seven-bladed main rotor. The rotor is driven by a main drive shaft produced by Avio Aero, a large power shaft with high-precision internal and external gears which has undergone multiple special treatments. We also produce the main housing (the magnesium casting with very narrow tolerances that contains the main power transmission) and the bevel gear (machined with technologically advanced processes to give the components specific metallurgical properties). The Ring Gear, a new component which transmits movement to the other power gears, is at the engineering stage.
Sikorsky is an extremely prestigious customer for Avio Aero: it controls a 35-40% share of the helicopter market, a figure that rises to 60-65% in the military helicopter segment. Furthermore, Avio Aero is looking to develop major new business opportunities with Sikorsky on established programs such as Black Hawk and the new version of the CH-53 King Stallion. However, it is vital for us to do everything possible to improve our performance. We had the pleasure to meet James Nastri, Strategic Sourcing Manager for the Military After-market, who can boast an outstanding career spanning 38 years at Sikorsky and has had dealings with Avio Aero for many years. We asked him a few questions to try to get an idea – from his vantage point as an industry expert and direct customer – of what we should do to continue to be a totally reliable partner.
How long have you known Avio Aero and what is your opinion of the way we work in general?
I’ve known Avio Aero ever since it was part of Fiat Group. Our working relationship dates back many years as Avio Aero is one of the longstanding suppliers for the CH-53E program, on which we continue to collaborate. In the 1980s and 1990s, the then Fiat Avio, and subsequently Avio, sent complete kits for the main transmission of the CH-53E. Avio is responsible for building the housing, the gears, the planetary gear and so on, inserting them into the kit and delivering them to Sikorsky which in turn assembles them, builds the gearbox and then tests it and installs it on the CH53 engine on our production line in Stratford.
What do you see as are our strengths and the aspects that we need to work on?
Avio Aero is an outstanding hi-tech company. It has a high degree of vertical integration and boasts excellent capabilities in transmission production. You don’t need to outsource processes, which is positive because it means you can keep control over everything internally through your Supply Chain, with a limited need to commission work outside the company. Avio Aero’s personnel are highly skilled workers who are dedicated to quality and work well to deliver a high-quality product.
What do you feel needs to be improved?
We are seeing some problems in terms of punctuality of deliveries. You’ve missed some delivery deadlines recently and are running late with the main shaft for the CH-53E, the main transmission housing and other critical gears. This is a real problem for Sikorsky as it means we’re unable to meet our customers’ needs. These components are crucially important for us because we have to assemble the transmissions undergoing overhaul and install the new housings, the new gears and the new drive shafts on the transmission ready for delivery to our Air Force and Navy customers. If we fail to deliver on time, the fleets won’t be ready and the aircraft will be unable to fly and complete the important missions they are involved in worldwide. This means we simply cannot risk incurring damages due to delayed deliveries.
What do you think of our initiative entitled “In customer’s shoes”? Have you had similar experiences in the past?
We constantly measure the feedback we receive from the market, so I think this “In customer’s shoes” format is a good way of listening to feedback from external customers. It will help you to understand what customers think of your company, your products and the people who work there. It’s something I’ve tried to do a number of times during my career as a way of achieving the continuous improvement that is so important for our business.
Do you have a final message to give to the people at Avio Aero?
First, I think you need to make a bigger effort to meet commitments. When we undertake to do something we must honor that commitment, there are no two ways about it. And unfortunately some commitments have not been honored. Secondly, you’re not very proactive in responding to needs. So you should try hard to be more proactive and satisfy customers’ requests. You need to continue along this development path and strive to improve continuously. You’re an excellent company, with great people and exceptional workers. So try to improve every day, and always remember: you have to keep the customer satisfied, that’s the key to success.