The nearly two billion dollar turnover Kaman Corporation is an engineering powerhouse with interests and expertise across a broad spectrum of applications, from power transmissions and bearings, to airframe and rotor composites.
Founded by aviation pioneer Charles Huron Kaman in 1945, Kaman is divided into two major units Kaman Aerospace, focused on manufacture and subcontracting for the global commercial, general and military aerospace and defence markets; and Kaman Industrial Distribution, which targets the $35 billion power transmission and motion control markets. Kaman Aerosystems is a division of Kaman Aerospace that provides engineering solutions for the military and general aviation markets.
Jim Larwood, President of Kaman Aerosystems, talked to EVA about the company’s expanding role in providing engineering expertise, components and structures for the business aviation market.
“We currently have a good deal of business in general aviation. In 2013, for example, we were chosen by Triumph Aerostructures, who make the wings for the Bombardier Global 7000 and Global 8000, to manufacture the Fixed Leading Edge (FLE) assemblies for both jets. These are being manufactured in our Jacksonville, Florida and Chihuahua, Mexico facilities,” Larwood comments. “It is a project that we are delighted to be part of and it showcases our capabilities in precision manufacturing,” he adds.
At present, Kaman Aerosystems has a 60-40 balance between military and commercial projects, but Larwood points out that the aim is to shift that first to a 50-50 balance and then to tip it 60-40 in favour of commercial aviation. “About 18 months ago we set out to ramp up our visibility and our ability to develop new business in the general aviation space and this initiative is already starting to bring significant rewards,” Larwood notes.
“The Aerosystems business really got going about two and a half years ago. The goal was, and is, to provide our OEM Tier One customers with an opportunity to outsource complete packages of work on a ‘one-stop-shop’ basis. We can remove the hassle of managing multiple suppliers through the many stages involved in procuring outsourced manufacturing,” Larwood adds.
The way the industry normally works involves multiple contracts with a range of suppliers. For example, a source package might come from an OEM like Boeing. It may have an engineering design and data package, along with components, assembly and test requirements. Kaman’s capabilities allow it to manufacture all aspects of these requirements within its facilities.
One of the company’s historic areas of expertise, dating back to one of Charles Kaman’s most significant projects, is in composite manufacturing. Kaman was personally responsible for the first composite helicopter rotor blade, and the company prides itself on being a world leader in composite manufacture. “We have five facilities around the world dedicated to composite manufacture and research. One facility is located in the United Kingdom, one in India, and the other three in the United States,” Larwood explains.
Larwood himself started out his career in composite manufacture in 1979 when it was simply termed non-metallic. “I gave a presentation back in my early aerospace days, where I said that composites would come to dominate the airframe market. Today, as we saw with the Boeing 787, which we had a part in, composites are huge. To make a 70% by-weight composite airframe, which is what the 787 is, demanded a huge amount from the supply base, but it really brought composites to the point where it is now a very stable and proven approach to airframe construction,” he comments.
One of the reasons why composites are now so popular with the leading business aviation airframe OEMs is that this approach allows the OEM to leapfrog everything that they can do with metallic structures. “Our focus on the Boeing 787 has been on doors and door surrounds, where Kaman has provided significant engineering ‘industry assist’ and where we have been able to use composites to do integrally moulded structures. In addition, we do a range of other composite parts such as flight control panels and winglets. And as a helicopter company we do a lot of rotor work in composites,” he sums up.
The division contributed significant carbon manufacturing process knowledge, tooling design and build expertise in support of the Bombardier Learjet 85 (LJ85) delivering a one shot cure, carbon door structure, fully assembled and shipped to the point of use, ready for installation. Kaman manufactured doors for the LJ85 until Bombardier announced that it was suspending work on the Lear 85 indefinitely.
“We had an interesting role there building the main door and the emergency over-wing door. Unfortunately the announcement about the suspension of the Lear 85 programme came just after we shipped the first doors to the flight test program. We would certainly love to see that programme restarted,” Larwood says.
Kaman Aerosystems also designs and builds tools, both for its own programmes and for its customers, including assembly jigs and moulding tools. The company is well abreast of developments in 3D printing as an alternative manufacturing process, but Larwood envisions that 3D printing still has a long way to go to match composites in terms of coping with loads on primary structures.
“Strength in composites comes from the fibre direction and the grain pattern and we fully understand the process and how to work with it. Today, I would say that we are students of 3D printing and its applications. There are places where it will work and places where it will fail. But we are strong advocates of technological innovation. Aerosystems has a Chief of Technology on staff and we look at every new development and emerging technology. Our focus is to provide the best value for our customers and our shareholders,” he comments.
In addition to its established pedigree in the military world, one of Kaman’s major customers in the commercial aviation industry for the last 30 years, has been Boeing. Kaman has also been recognised as a Boeing Supplier of the Year in 2012 for engineering expertise and services in support of Boeing programmes.
For the last two years or so it has mounted a major exercise to apply its expertise in primary structure manufacturing to the business aviation market and to make itself and its capabilities known to the sector. “I am delighted to say that we are being very well received by the OEMs. They recognise that we have some solid engineering expertise to bring to the table.”