Metal Fabricating
Friday | 16 October, 2009 | 2:32 am

Brain trust

NASA looks to bright suppliers for tooling support

By Abbe Miller

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NASA looks to bright suppliers for tooling support

October 2009- There's something inherently cool about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Mention NASA in any passing conversation, and the other topics of discussion are quickly forgotten. Part of that phenomenon is because of the sheer idea of human space travel and the fascination of what's been deemed "the final frontier." But for a portion of the population, NASA can be considered cool solely because those who are associated with the organization are so wildly intelligent.

Take the people at EMF Inc., Merritt Island, Fla., for example. Not only has the engineering and metal fabrication firm been supplying the space program with components throughout the years, it's also providing NASA with fixtures that will be used to construct the Orion, the successor to the shuttle, which will launch in 2015.

"[Providing parts for the Orion project] creates a great feeling," says Jeff Flick, vice president of EMF. "We have a low turnover rate with our employees, some of which have been here for 23 years and longer. What we're doing for the Orion project is as great or even greater than anything we've done before."

The company's expertise comprises precision machining, quality fabrication, sheet metal work and what the company describes as its favorite, engineering. EMF is a go-to source for the manufacturing and design of custom parts and assemblies, and it has been providing the aerospace and maritime communities with metal components since 1964.

Examples of its work include a hatch mock-up assembly used for the International Space Station, an air-conditioned cargo transport vehicle for Boeing and NASA, extraction pallets for Coleman Aerospace's missile defense system and scissor jack assemblies for the movie "Back to the Future," among many others.

Efficient minds
Adopting lean initiatives has proven to be a fairly accurate measure of a high IQ, and EMF's operations are no exception. Like many successful companies that have implemented lean, EMF has heightened its awareness of where in-house processes may have been lacking, and it has increased its efficiencies by leaps and bounds.

"We've participated in lean events and have brought in the Florida MEP, a Florida-based organization that helps small businesses to become more efficient," Flick explains. "They come in with instructors and actually stay here on-site for a couple of days at a time. They pick different departments to conduct lean events, which we've found to be very beneficial. From that, we've done some spin-offs and some internal lean operations of our own. We've gone in again to a specific department and have seen what we can do to make additional improvements."

For the Orion project, EMF took special care in pinpointing areas that could use improvement. The benefits have been felt companywide.

"We got the quality assurance individuals working more closely with the purchasing people instead of just dealing with the receiving people," Flick says. "Compared to the old way, where we were bringing quality assurance in at receiving inspection, now they have a more active role on the beginning at purchasing. We're finding that by getting the questions answered on the purchasing end, when it comes in at receiving, it seems to flow more smoothly. It arrives onto the production floor without as much hesitation."

Thought-provoking projects
And as a little reinforcement to the company's exceptional status and its constant strive for perfection, its Web sitespeaks to the like-minded. What could be a typical message board for company news and events acts as a forum to pique curiosities.

For one of the weekly entries, a challenge is posed: Pick a weight, 50 lbs. perhaps, and construct a bridge that can sustain that weight. The trick: use spaghetti as the building material.

No matter what project is set in front of its engineers, EMF's goal is to stimulate their imaginations and find out where it will take them. As a whole, EMF exhibits that certain air of wit that can only come from those who are truly curious about the world around them. And as with NASA, the company's projects will continue to grab attention. FFJ

Last modified on Thursday | 23 February, 2012 | 11:21 am

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