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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

A Good Sense of Direction

The navigation systems developed at the Northrop Grumman Corp. facility in Woodland Hills can be found in some interesting and hostile places. They are used aboard jet fighters, submarines, and into the far reaches of space. “So far in outer space, we are on Mars,” said James Myers, the sector vice president and general manager for the Navigation Systems division of Northrop Grumman. Spread among six main buildings on a 50-acre campus, the division conducts research and development for its military and commercial customers along with low-volume custom manufacturing. High-volume manufacturing takes place in Salt Lake City and at subsidiaries in Germany and Italy. Myers was appointed to his present position in August and guides the navigation systems division at a time of transition from mechanical gyro systems to smaller, lighter, more energy- efficient fiber optic gyroscopes. Concerns that global positioning systems would replace these inertial systems based on movement never materialized. Combining the gyroscopic data with that coming from a GPS gives more accuracy and precision on position, velocity and attitude, Myers said. “We can offer to the government customer a precision solution they cannot get with any other solution,” Myers said. Northrop employs 1,600 employees in the San Fernando Valley, with another 1,900 in the Antelope Valley. Q: What kind of challenges are there in making the transition from the mechanical gyroscopes to the fiber optic gyroscopes? A: It really hasn’t been difficult for us whether it be with a customer or from a production point of view. If you look at the way Salt Lake City is organized we have cellular manufacturing. We have product roadmaps. As we transition from one product to another we are maximizing commonalities that exist between the products. It hasn’t introduced difficulties. You do of course want to avoid customer confusion. Some of it is educating the customer on what we have for them today and where we are heading and get them ready for that. Q: When developing new products, are you meeting specific customer needs or trying to get ahead of the curve of what will be needed down the road? A: It is a little bit of both. You want to have technology contracts because you want to have some of this cutting edge work. We fund some of it ourselves but [sometimes we] let the customer fund because that shows the customer is serious about it. The commercial customers are very vocal about what they want and when they need it. There is a small amount of our investment that I view in the terminology of ‘N plus two.’ It’s not current generation, which would be N, and it’s not next generation, which you can see out there in three to five years; you just can’t see it, you don’t know if it will turn into anything. We spend a little bit of our discretionary money on that N plus 2 but it’s small. Q: Like other aerospace companies, Northrop faces losing employees through retirements. What is being done to address that? A: It’s an industry-wide challenge for sure. We don’t see attrition rates, departures, retirements at a rate that is above the industry average. We are lower than the industry here. We are doing better but we are still faced with that challenge in broad terms. It’s much more fun to come to work when you are growing. One piece of it is doing good business and being on a growth trajectory. Another piece is showing that you care. And that is through some of the investments by [Electronic Systems] and the leadership forum that I and a lot of the management have been involved with. Mentoring is something you can leverage with a workforce that has 25 years experience or more. We have many, many people at that experience level. Their ability to educate and bring along folks who have 5, 10, zero years experience, that is something we have to take advantage of. We are working that very hard this year. As far as long-term knowledge management, that is a sector-wide or corporate wide initiative. Q: What steps are you taking to get students interested in math, science and engineering? A: They are the future. The company has a number of areas they are involved in. We have some focus schools in the area. Other parts of Northrop have focus schools they spend time with. As far as attracting people to join the company we have summer interns, we have co-ops. I’ve put a lot of emphasis on those two programs. They exist but we are putting more energy into them than we had because they are critical. We want those people to leave their experience saying great things so they go back and tell their friends how great it was to be here and we get a multiplier effect on that. Q: What is the division between the government work and commercial work? A: If you take international and commercial and put them together it’s maybe 40 percent of our work, and the government is the rest. We are pretty even. The reason I put them together is international business is more commercial than anything else even though sometimes you are selling to a government customer. Those are commercial type contracts. Q: Is there an up and down in terms of the amount of work from both the government and commercial sectors? A: Quarter to quarter you see some motion. The work is pretty stable. There is this interest in more precision. There is an interest in what’s called geo-location; knowing where you are and knowing where another person or object is. There are these new applications that are coming along. We find ourselves stable and growing. We don’t see year-over-year large declines and gains. We are looking to grow very gradually. Q: In terms of the manufacturing, are the entire gyroscope systems built here? A: In Salt Lake City, when we are done [the completed system] is what you will see. Now, we buy the housing and chassis from somebody. We don’t make that. There are pieces that we outsource and there are pieces we do ourselves. Salt Lake City produces many of the items that go into the box, they are integrating the box and they are testing the box. They do a whole spectrum of activity. We also do it here; it’s just not at same volume. Q: Those are high tech manufacturing positions? A: I talk about the precision in what these devices provide. There is also an incredible amount of precision in building them. An analogy for you is that the German subsidiary is located in a part of Germany that is historically known for watch making because you know how precise German watches are, how good they are, how technically accurate they are. The precision that goes into these instruments is significant. They are very high tech. People don’t realize when they see this box but they are very high tech. SNAPSHOT: James M. Myers Title: Vice President and General Manager, Northrop Grumman’s Navigation Systems Division Education: Bachelors in mechanical engineering and a Masters in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Stanford University; MBA from The Anderson School at UCLA. Career Turning Point: Joining Northrop Grumman in 1997 Personal: Married, 3 children Most Admired Person: My father

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