Piqua, OH sits 30 miles outside of Dayton, close to Wilbur and Orville Wright’s family home. It’s no coincidence that today, Piqua is home to Hartzell Propeller, a global leader in advanced technology propeller design and manufacturing. Piqua had a date with destiny: in 1917, none other than Orville Wright himself advised the Hartzell lumber mill operation to use their supply of walnut trees to manufacture aircraft propellers.
The rest, as they say, is history. Closing in on the company’s centennial anniversary, it’s been a long time since Hartzell Propeller made their products out of the local walnut stock; today, the company works in aluminum and carbon fiber. When you’ve managed to stay relevant in an industry as change-driven as the aerospace market, you have to be doing something right.
How does Hartzell do it?
Constant innovation, andintegrating advanced processes into their operation. Hartzell uses a work cell approach to manufacturing, using their “Done in One” shop mantra to guide their operation. This means that the staff at Hartzell does it right the first time, scrap-free, and on spec. Every action on their manufacturing floor is carefully analyzed, so that it is advancing the proper manufacture of a component or product. metrology is a focus because the company’s tolerances on components is less than 1/12”. With the focus on efficiency and quality, strong metrology practices ensure that the parts they deliver are extremely precise. As such, more than 19 CMM machines are deployed in the Hartzell Propeller factory.
The original founder coined the company’s motto “Built on honor”. This high moral calling shows in the everyday actions of the staff: the shop is neat, the floors are clean, and each work area is organized. Everyone is empowered to do their best work by supplying them with everything they need in their work cell, right down to the broom and dustpan needed to sweep the floors. Employees are invested in the work, and there is a palpable esprit de corps amongst the staff. While the manufacturing process is heavily automated and mechanized, the human touch is evident as many of the adjustments to the propellers is completed by skilled, human hands.
Oftentimes, automation is seen as a threat to workers. But Hartzell sees it as a way to keep their staff productive and employed not just today, but for tomorrow, too. Advanced manufacturing requires advanced tools, and Hartzell makes strategic decisions about where to invest their capital investments by gauging how it will help make the company competitive in the next decade. This is why the company is making investments in automation. In areas of the operation where there is an opportunity to focus their human talent and capital on higher value-added processes, they do so. In turn, the organization resets their lower value, time-intensive or potentially hazardous operations to an automated system.
The proof of this philosophy is in the results. Hartzell Propeller employs nearly 300 skilled professionals, and occupies the premier spot in the aviation world for cutting edge propellers. Nearly a century later, it’s apparent that Orville Wright gave the founders sage counsel when he advised that they mill their walnut trees into propellers for the first generation of aircraft. The dual ethos of “Done in One” and “Built on Honor” shows that advanced manufacturing in America is still flying high.