Lisi Aerospace – Rising to the Challenge
LISI AEROSPACE BAI UK, a renowned manufacturer of titanium fasteners for the global aerospace industry, remains focused on its smart future.
The UK manufacturer based in Rugby is a member of the global LISI Group, operating within three business lines, Aerospace, Automotive and Medical. With its 19 sites in 9 countries, the Aerospace Division is the largest part of the business, accounting for 54% of the Group’s sales in 2020.
LISI AEROSPACE is in the top 100 in the global aerospace value chain and specialises in the design and manufacture of high-tech metal components to enhance aircraft safety and performance. Active since 1950 in the fastener market (and currently No 3 worldwide), LISI AEROSPACE has been a recognized player in metal components for aircraft engines and airframes since 2011. Serving more than 300 customers in 30 countries, the focus on innovation is strong, to ensure exceptional operational performance.
The Rugby facility specialises in the manufacture of aerospace fasteners, ranging from standard pins to more complex parts such as double annealed fasteners and various plating and coating types. The factory also manufactures repair bolts that are used for repairs and upgrades to the airframe.
General Manager Mark Capell explains that the products are mainly used in commercial aircraft frames, with a small percentage going to military aircraft and, more recently, helicopters. “The factory produces high-volume and small-batch work, with over 60% of our output supplied to Airbus, followed by other leading manufacturers including Embraer, Bombardier, Wesco and others.”
LISI AEROSPACE UK global reputation is based on achieving excellent performance in terms of safety (6 years of no time-lost accidents), delivery, quality and responsiveness – qualities that pay dividends during any crisis. With aerospace being one of the sectors most affected by the global pandemic, it comes as no surprise that the Rugby factory experienced a challenging year. Still, the company kept going and continued its strategic investment programme.
Strong through the crisis
Although the global market shrank by about 30% in 2020 and commercial air traffic is still heavily reduced, the Rugby site remained profitable throughout 2020 and into 2021. This is even more impressive given the fact that most of the top management team was replaced last year.
Mr Capell, who took over his General Manager role in January 2020, a few months before the first lockdown, says: “The company has always pursued its core values of teamwork, innovation, customer focus and integrity, and these values helped us remain in robust shape in difficult times. More than anything, the crisis gelled the team together and made us act quickly – at the start of the pandemic we managed to completely reconfigure 2 production lines in just 48 hours.”
He affirmed that right from the beginning, employee safety has been the highest priority throughout the pandemic, and a full range of safety measures has been implemented. “Digital communication – new to many of us – has been key but also challenging. We have introduced a new local intranet/communication portal with updates and newsletters, and virtual coffee mornings for home workers to support their mental health. For the whole year now, all meetings have been conducted online. It hasn’t been all easy, but in its way, the pandemic accelerated the digitisation process that was already in progress.”
Speaking about teamwork and staff commitment, Mr Capell highlights the outstanding cooperation with the Works Council and the role it played in employee support and engagement. “We received excellent input from the workforce on improvement ideas and working conditions. Some key decisions were made in collaboration with the Works Council, such as the furlough shift pattern which was implemented following the changes to the scheme in October 2020. We also made sure that employees were recognised for their hard work and efforts and maintained performance bonuses throughout the year.”
With reduced headcount and increased focus on operational efficiencies and fixed-cost reduction, the company continues with its plan to transition to smart manufacturing. LISI AEROSPACE UK – and The University of Sheffield AMRC have jointly secured £975,000 in funding from the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) to develop a ‘smart factory’ production line, a project that was initiated a few years ago.
“The investment shows we are committed to advancing the fastener industry with our unique and high-impact approach,” said Mark Capell. “Several important topics will be addressed, such as Industry 4.0, digitisation, big data, closed-loop manufacturing, forge to size (to eliminate subsequent operations), Manufacturing Execution System (MES), autonomous processes (machine learning), training in augmented/mixed reality. The project will reduce wastage and operator interaction; ultimately aiming to provide an all-round better manufacturing process.”
A new team of 4 engineers and a manager has been assigned to enable the project, with in-house development of key features such as PCB design, database, programming and sensors. “Currently we are at the stage of choosing an equipment partner, the plan is to order three new machines in Q2 to develop the smart technology to the next level. The first line should be in production at the end of 2022,” says Mr Capell.
“Efficiency will remain key. After adjusting our fixed costs, we are now focussing on variable costs and process efficiencies. The workforce has been fantastically flexible throughout the pandemic and is heavily engaged in future developments. When the market recovers, we will emerge with the smart factory technology in place as well as new skills. To this end, we are working with the next generation of aerospace employees at universities and colleges, and also have a number of apprentices on-site.
“We will continue to invest in the next generation of employees. Human resources are our core asset. What kept us going throughout the Covid-19 crisis was the excellent teamwork and the continued efforts of not just the management but of every single employee of the company. The talented, dedicated and flexible workforce will be a key element in securing LISI AEROSPACE’s future.”