Over the years, Kaman Composites-Wichita has grown and evolved into a major composite supplier to the aviation industry.
It plans to keep growing, and one place it’s looking to further that aim is within Wichita.
“Our focus is on the local OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), to grow with them to try to keep all this business local,” said Dave Steiner, Kaman director of business development.
The company, located at 1650 S. McComas in southwest Wichita, is in a good spot. The facility is five minutes from Cessna and Bombardier and 15 minutes from Spirit AeroSystems and Hawker Beechcraft.
“Being in the proximity that we are, we can work together on new programs or existing programs,” Steiner said.
That makes it convenient for quick access or face-to-face meetings, he said.
Kaman Composites is more than a local company, however. Its largest customers are Boeing, Sikorsky and Bell Helicopter. It ships around the world.
Sixty percent of its business is on military programs, while 40 percent is on civil aircraft projects.
The majority of its work, 75 percent, is on helicopters, with the rest attributable to fixed-wing aircraft.
Its goal is to diversify the business and make the mix more balanced, Steiner said.
“The more balanced you are, the more stability you have,” he said.
While the threat of sequestration is on the minds of many defense contractors, Steiner said Kaman is lucky.
“Fortunately for us, the military programs we are on are very stable,” Steiner said. “I don’t see an impact on that. We are very fortunate that we are on the right programs.”
The Wichita facility is on track to increase its 2012 revenue 10 percent over last year.
It employs 133.
The company produces composite structures and cabin interiors and performs structural bondments, compression molding, vacuum forming, composite assembly and nondestructive inspection. It offers quick turnaround service for “airplanes on the ground” and is a Federal Aviation Administration repair station.
Its work with composites is timely. Many customers are working on new programs and working with new materials.
“Everyone’s trending toward composites for weight savings,” Steiner said.
Kaman worked with composites with Boeing in the early stages of the Boeing 787, performing a lot of the development work on the composite flight deck and vertical fin.
The site currently is developing partnerships with Wichita State University’s College of Engineering, WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research, Butler Community College, Pittsburg State University and others to work on new materials and composite processing.
Kaman’s facilities, processes and equipment are state-of-the-art, and the customer is king, Steiner said.
“If there’s an issue, we get in front of it real quick,” he said.
Customers are welcome any time to visit and tour. When customers do visit, it’s often technicians on the shop floor, instead of management, who will talk to them about the work done in their area.
“Without them, we don’t exist,” Steiner said of the employees.
At first, the technicians were a little timid about talking. But as they saw the customers’ interest, they became more comfortable, he said.
Chuck Harrod, a lead in the paint shop, showed a visitor recently the steps that go into painting a composite part, and the sanding, smoothing and other work involved.
To help ensure high-quality work, Kaman focuses on employee retention.
While big companies may pay more, “we compete on other levels,” said Jim Simister, general manager of the Wichita facility.
One way is by offering educational benefits. Kaman reimburses tuition for employees working on an associate’s degree in composites and gives pay increases as they progress.
Employees also cross-train to expand their skills and become more valuable.
They also are involved in decision making.
“We use their experience to make a decision,” Steiner said. “Employee involvement is huge.”
The Wichita site is a subsidiary of Kaman Aerospace Group, based in Bloomfield, Conn. It’s one of the parent company’s four composite facilities.
Kaman Aerospace also operates helicopter, precision products, specialty bearings and aerostructures facilities.
The Wichita operations began as Plastic Fabricating in 1948, and it made aircraft wind screens, bumper car shells and display cases.
Business evolved over the years.
Kaman acquired the facility in 2001 and continues to invest in the business, Steiner said. An upcoming project is to add air conditioning to the production area next year.