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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

Local Companies Show Off Importance of Aerospace

On the display floor at the Westec manufacturing trade show, Todd White and Jonathan Christopher stood behind a glass case containing products made by Scientific Cutting Tools in Simi Valley. The company has much to thank to the aerospace industry as its first customers were in the aircraft manufacturing business when it was founded in the early 1960s by Christopher’s grandfather. “Aerospace has a lot of hydraulic components and these tools, port contour cutters, are for hydraulic fittings,” said White, a national sales manager, tapping the top of the glass case. The aerospace industry in Southern California and the San Fernando Valley region is not the job creator it once was. The industry will take a hit in 2009 when the C-17 transport plane made in Long Beach by Boeing Co. shuts down production. But that doesn’t mean that the work has evaporated. Valley manufacturing companies exhibiting at this year’s Westec show at the Los Aneles Convention Center still have a foot in aerospace, from the cutting tools made by Scientific to computer-aided manufacturing software from Gibbs and Associates and DP Technology Corp., to the controllers made by Delta Tau Data Systems, Inc. used to inspect fighter aircraft wings. When the Los Angeles chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association hosted a lunch March 28 at Westec, attendees heard from George Vardoulakis of Northrop Grumman, a contributor to the F/A-18 Super Hornet jet still assembled in Southern California. Vardoulakis spoke optimistically about the Super Hornet’s future despite Congress cutting funds this year to produce 4 planes for the U.S. Navy rather than the original 18 planes. The proposed 2008 contains funding for 18 jets. “There is still a recognition these products are required,” said Vardoulakis, vice president of tactical systems for F/A-18 programs for the company’s Integrated Systems sector. If sales continue to the U.S. military and overseas armed forces the Australian Air Force became the first international buyer of the Super Hornet when it placed an order of 24 planes in March Northrop looks to stay in production until 2020, Vardoulakis said. Northrop Grumman has more facilities in California than any other state, including a plant in Palmdale used for the F-35 Lighting II, the unmanned reconnaissance jet Global Hawk, the Chukar aerial drone, and for updating (and recoating) the B-2 Stealth jet. Valley companies number Northrop as well as other manufacturers Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon among their client base. Aerospace is only a portion of the estimated 10,000 customers using software from Gibbs, including Boeing machine shops in Seattle and by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge for parts used on the Mars rovers. “It won’t ever be like the golden days of the 1980’s when Southern California was king,” said Bill Gibbs, president and founder of Gibbs and Associates in Moorpark. “A lot of customers have changed names. Or they’ve kept the name and changed their employees. “It’s been interesting watching the evolution of these companies.” Delta Tau in Chatsworth makes both hardware and software, with its products used by Heizer Aerospace, Inc. in Missouri in making titanium parts and to control the robotic arms used in inspecting the composite wings of the Air Force F-22 jet. The arms spray jets of water over the wings to reveal any cracks or dimples, said Dominic Dimitri, vice president of sales and marketing for Delta Tau. “It’s a unique process,” Dimitri added. “It’s complex because there is a lot of data input going on.” Yet, despite the work companies continue to get, statistics compiled by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. show a steep decline in aerospace employment since 1990. In 2006, there were 38,000 aerospace products and parts jobs in L.A. County, a drop of 14,000 jobs or 27 percent from 2000, according to a report the LAEDC released this month. Jobs in the fabricated metal products sector, which gets a significant amount of work from aerospace, numbered 49,000 in 2006, a drop of 12,000 jobs or 20 percent from 2000, the report said. Finding qualified people to work in most manufacturing-related jobs is tough and even a company the size of Northrop faces challenges in hiring and retention. Ninety percent of attrition at Northrop occurs within five years of an employee joining the company, Vardoulakis said. To fill opening with qualified people, the company recruits at colleges, and tracks people who are in complementary industries. To generate interest in high school students, Northrop hosts career days and sponsors robotics competitions so that students can apply the math and science skills, Vardoulakis said. “If we are to continue to 2020, we’ll need a solid pipeline of talent,” Vardoulakis said.

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