It’s nothing new that the Rockford area is known for making things; manufacturing has been in people’s blood for generations.
It wasn’t that long ago that Woodward’s newest location was nothing but a hole in the ground. Now, it’s a huge 450,000 square foot facility. It’s massive and built with a purpose and designed around the process.
“Material comes in [one] end of the building, parts flow down the line to assembly, and test,” said Geoff Anderson, Director of Manufacturing, Parts Manufacturing. “[It then goes] out the northeast end of the building.”
Woodward calls that planning, “Billet to Box,” and it’s really about efficiency. There are several different product lines flowing through the building. This is not your stereotypical “dirty shop.” It’s very high-tech.
“We can have a couple of operators setting up parts over here for all of our housings. They put them on the fixture. The robot system will put them away. And then robot will actually load the pallet in the machine. And the whole system talks to each other.”
If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, chances are you’ve gotten to your destination safely because of Woodward engineered and manufactured parts. Don’t forget the people who work here either.
“That brings such a camaraderie,” said President of Aircraft Turbine Systems Sagar Patel. “[It’s] a culture, which is unified and really passionate about solving customer problems and making us world class, that’s unique to us.”
Those members make things like a fuel metering unit. Patel describes it as the heart of an aircraft engine, pumping fuel to the parts that need it in the right amount. Woodward’s engine-making customers, companies like GE and Pratt & Whitney need quieter, more efficient engines.
“We have about 300 design engineers who do nothing but specialize in knowing what’s the latest and greatest in technology, both in terms of airplane engines and manufacturing and bring it all together in our new designs,” said Patel.
Those designs start from basically a blank slate that grows out of the customers’ needs. It can take years from start to finish.
“We’re simulating, not temperature, but we’re simulating engine condition for pressure,” said VP/GM of fuel Systems Center of Excellence Terry Voskuil. “We’re moving stuff around, and they have to meet a certain limit before we can ship it.”
That process used to take a technician hours by hand. Now, it’s automated. The testing limits are incredibly tight.
“The tolerance from edge to edge needs to be 2 tenths of a thousandth. These machines are highly, highly accurate.”
With room to grow in the plant, Woodward anticipates hiring even more people than the 1,600 already there. The company wants them to be local, trained through partnerships, like the RVC/NIU Engineering program.
“All is connected and as a result we’ve been successfully able to hire everyone we need on time,” said Patel. “Actually our hiring is more predictable than our production. And it’s because of all these partnerships.”
In 2020, Woodward will celebrate its 150th anniversary.