BMT Aerospace USA Inc.

Commitment is a commodity that a business cannot run without. The commitment to invest in new manufacturing equipment that will enable a company to excel was necessary for BMT Aerospace USA Inc. to accelerate its growth, and for its vice president of sales and marketing, Bryan Barlow, to execute a successful revenue growth strategy.

“You have to decide what it is you want to pursue, but it also hinges on your capability,” Barlow emphasizes. “If you don’t have the capability, you can’t chase it.” This chicken-and-egg scenario – needing the equipment to get the business, but not wanting to invest in the equipment until the business is won – was broken by BMT Aerospace’s commitment to obtaining the equipment first.

“The BMT Aerospace team calculated the margins on certain parts and within very specific market segments and pursued the most profitable ones,” Barlow notes. “That plan worked very well for us even during the recent global recession.”

In Fraser, Mich., BMT Aerospace USA Inc. produces aerospace gears that go into turbine engines, helicopter drive systems or air frames for both fixed and rotary wing, commercial and military aircraft manufactured worldwide. Customers include companies such as Sikorsky Aircraft, Bell Helicopter, General Electric, Pratt and Whitney, Rolls-Royce, Hispano Suiza, Honeywell and Hamilton Sundstrand.

Gears and gearbox assemblies can be components of turbine engines and auxiliary power units or on a helicopter in the main rotor drive system or tail rotor prop gearboxes. “We produce the detail gears and our customer assembles the gearbox, and now we make the complete gearbox assembly – which is dynamically tested at our facility – and then ship the completed gearbox to the OEM customer,” Barlow explains. “It depends on the individual customer’s needs.”

The Best Spiral Bevel Gear

BMT Aerospace USA creates a five-year business plan annually. As part of the plan, it chose the type of part in which it wanted to specialize. “All our competitors, small and large, manufacture complex spur gears, so what we did was we went to the next step and said, ‘We want to make spiral bevel gears and be the best in the business globally,’” Barlow recalls. “So we went out and acquired the best bevel gear manufacturing technology available. We spent our money and capital on technology, and then put the right people in place to run the machines. So we gave ourselves a competitive niche to be one of the best – if not the very best in the business – for complex spiral bevel gears.”

The results were far-reaching. “That launched us up the ladder in terms of capability,” he remembers. “Our customers saw that we were spending the money on capital. We were buying the best manufacturing equipment that is available globally. We gave ourselves a technical edge, so we can do it cheaper, better, faster and have excellent quality. Once we did that with spiral bevel gears, the customers took notice, and they said, ‘Why don’t you make us the whole gearbox?’ That was actually part of our strategy.”

One way BMT controlled costs was by keeping overhead low. “We’ve paid for all our equipment and didn’t borrow, so we didn’t burden the company with additional debt,” Barlow declares. “We maintained a competitive rate so we can compete globally. So we’ve given this little company – which isn’t so little anymore – an edge as far as customer service, manufacturing capability, manufacturing expertise and cost.”

Romanian Plant

BMT Aerospace USA Inc. is a Michigan corporation owned by a Belgian company, BMT Aerospace International NV. One way the company keeps its costs down and provides European content to projects that require it is to use its manufacturing subsidiary in Iasi, Romania, which was set up in 2000 to operate similarly to the facility in Michigan. Although the skill level of Romanian workers is high, they did not have the best facility to work in when the Romanian aerospace manufacturing facility was originally set up in 2000.

“It was dark, dingy, ugly and it had four lathes, and today it is a full-service, state-of-the-art gear manufacturing facility that any North American or Western European OEM would desire to see,” Barlow maintains. “The low-cost manufacturing facility is a carrot or a magnet for our customers to come to BMT. Consequently, both the U.S. and the Romanian facilities continue to grow.”

Supervisors at BMT Aerospace USA are responsible for their departments in Romania. “We’re all on the same team,” Barlow asserts. “We talk to them every day. The quality manager here ‘owns’ quality in Romania. He has a manager that runs it over there, but the U.S. manager is responsible for it.” The same scenario goes for engineering and manufacturing.

Lean manufacturing techniques have been implemented at the Romanian facility to produce high-volume actuation shafts and gears for European commercial aerospace products. “There are six Airbus part numbers that run in the manufacturing cell that we set up just for those part numbers,” Barlow points out. “We produce 100 percent of the starter gears for a North American customer in a cell in Romania. We purchased state-of-the-art, custom-built equipment.”

Record Years

The Romanian facility has approximately 35,000 square feet of manufacturing space, but that will be expanded by the end of 2012 to approximately 70,000 square feet. The Michigan facility has approximately 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space. “In Michigan, we’ve determined by 2014 we’re going to have to expand the building or move again,” Barlow notes.

Barlow came to BMT Aerospace USA in 2000 after 16 1/2 years in the aerospace industry. As mentors, he lists Cliff Claymen at Cooper Drug Co., a division of Chromalloy Pharmaceutical Co., who was Barlow’s first real boss. “He took me under his wing as a young guy, cleaned up my act, gave me some selling skills, taught me how to dress and speak properly and how to sell,” Barlow remembers.

Barlow also cites his last boss, Dan Hennen, who was then vice president of sales at ACR Industries and now is president of Triumph Gear – Macomb and Utah. “I learned a significant amount from Dan,” Barlow declares. ACR is now Triumph Gear Systems –Macomb Inc.

This background has helped Barlow succeed at BMT. “We’ve had a record year in sales and profitability every year since 2005, even through this last recession,” he declares. “The company was losing money leading up to 2005. The shareholders in Belgium were not happy at all, but fortunately for us, they think much longer term. We fine-tuned our management team a little bit and revamped the strategic direction of the company, and since 2005, we haven’t skipped a beat setting new records every year. We’ve done that by getting on new aircraft and engine programs, gaining new customers or taking market share from competitors.” •mt

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