Pratt and Whitney: Soaring into the future

Pratt and Whitney's jet engine manufacturing plant balances speed and flexibility
By Plant Engineering August 7, 2013

Joe Sylvestro is the vice president for manufacturing operations for Pratt and Whitney. Courtesy: Pratt and WhitneyAs U.S. manufacturing has powered the global economic resurgence in recent years, Pratt & Whitney has powered aviation. The company boasts of having its jet engines in 25% of the world’s commercial aviation fleet. It is also a global force in military aviation, with its engines in 29 countries around the world. The company, founded by Frederick Rentschler in 1925, is a division of United Technologies Corp., and has 33,000 employees and $14 billion in worldwide revenues.

Pratt & Whitney has a manufacturing operation built around uncompromising quality in products that must perform at all times. Joe Sylvestro is the person charged with leading that effort. Sylvestro is vice president of manufacturing operations for Pratt & Whitney. In that role, he is responsible for quality, safety, and cost management Pratt & Whitney’s manufacturing operations are in Maine; New York; Pennsylvania; Georgia; and Chengdu, China; its home plant is in Middletown, Conn.

Plant Engineering content manager Bob Vavra discussed the strategies and success of Pratt & Whitney’s manufacturing process with Sylvestro, as well as the challenges in a far-flung and evolving market.

Plant Engineering: How do you measure, manage, and maintain quality in the manufacturing operation?

Sylvestro: Pratt & Whitney is committed to being the world-class provider of dependable engines, propulsion systems, parts, and services that meet customer expectations. Quality, compliance to requirements, and continuous improvement are keys in everything we do.

The United Technologies Corp. ACE (Achieving Competitive Excellence) operating system is an integral part of the continuous improvement process at P&W. ACE is our proprietary operating system to ensure world-class quality in our products and processes. With its relentless focus on increasing efficiency and reducing waste, ACE is integral to the company’s performance model. Facilities worldwide use the operating system to improve quality and customer satisfaction while lowering cost.

We continuously measure and track many aspects of our quality performance and rely heavily on our skilled employees to evaluate their processes to find ways to eliminate waste and continuously improve the business.

PE: There are so many moving parts—product and people—in a facility like this. How do you keep everyone engaged, informed, and on task?

Sylvestro: Pratt & Whitney’s Middletown, Conn., facility is approximately 2 million sq ft. Globally, we are responsible for more than 19 million sq ft of manufacturing, assembly, test, and office space, located in about 22 countries worldwide. We support customers in more than 180 countries.

Our employees continue to tell us that they are interested in staying informed on company news and events, so we continue to evolve our open and honest communications processes and tools to help them do their jobs and stay aligned with company strategy and priorities. Some of the robust tools we use include: quarterly all-hands meetings; toolbox talk meetings (team meetings), and our company intranet, which includes leadership messages and articles on program milestones, industry news, policy enhancements, and employee features from across the globe.

In addition, we use the ACE operating system, which incorporates a set of tools that helps our organization codify processes, identify process improvement opportunities, solve problems, and assist with decision-making. All employees are trained and empowered to implement the standard processes across the company through standard work.

One of the key tenets of ACE is to gather feedback from employees, as well as from internal and external customers, to ensure we are delivering on our commitments and continuously identify areas for improvement.

PE: Why are you optimistic about your own manufacturing operation?

Sylvestro: We just came out of the Paris Airshow, where we announced new orders for more than 1,000 engines, including options. We now have more than 4,500 orders and commitments for our PurePower engine family, including options, from more than 40 customers around the world. This helps us maintain our lead position of more than 50% of Airbus A320neo engine orders. The overall market response to our next generation engine family continues to be very strong.

In addition, we are the only engine manufacturer powering fifth-generation fighters today. Those include the F135 for the F-35 Lightning II—known also as the Joint Strike Fighter—and  the F119 powering the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor.

In the next five years we are ramping up production significantly, and we will be delivering volumes of engines not seen since the early 1980s, so it’s a very exciting time for us. We are ahead of the curve, and preparing for this volume by transforming our global operations. These next generation engine programs are giving us the opportunity to increase assembly and machining capacity globally, invest in smart technologies, introduce new capabilities, and improve our processes and flow in our factories to be leaner. 

PE: What is the best thing you do in your plant today? What area of your operation are you most proud of?

Sylvestro: State-of-the-art technology and innovation continue to shape our manufacturing processes, and the increased use of advanced manufacturing techniques is something I am particularly excited about in operations. Some of the complex machining processes we have developed in recent years are reducing lead times for certain operations by 40% or more just by using innovative manufacturing techniques, tooling, and programs. It is fantastic to see this happen.

In addition, our use of additive manufacturing enables new manufacturing solutions in terms of design, speed, flexibility, and affordability. For example, we can use additive manufacturing to print complicated hollow parts that weigh less and are less expensive to produce compared to parts made with conventional methods.

Over these past 25 years, we have advanced our experience in additive manufacturing and rapid prototype techniques with various materials including metals.

PE: On the other hand, where do you have the most room for improvement? What’s the plan for improvement?

Sylvestro: I believe that there is always room for improvement as we strive to deliver the perfect quality that earns customer loyalty. We continue to look for opportunities to drive down cost as we evolve our business products and processes for the increase in volume that we will see in the next five years.

We are increasing our capacity through product rationalization, process optimization, increasing automation, footprint optimization, and limited footprint expansion. We are improving our capability by retooling our equipment and inserting advanced manufacturing technologies into our existing processes and products.

The benefits are increased speed, efficiency, and flow, leading to reduced costs for our customers.

PE: You have both military and commercial customers. What are the manufacturing challenges—and the opportunities—with two such different customers?

Sylvestro: Pratt & Whitney makes the most technologically advanced fighter engines in the world for military customers around the globe. We partner with our supply base to ensure capacity, quality, and on-time delivery; therefore, P&W suppliers have invested in our military programs. Investments include purchase of new machines and new equipment, hiring/training of additional employees, and purchase or expansion to increase manufacturing space.

It is critical to achieve stability in the F-35 program, as uncertainty/instability inhibits decisions and can lead to a lack of investment in capital, inhibited hiring, etc. We need to invest in capacity, and so do our suppliers. With all of the uncertainty (sequestration, etc.), some suppliers are hesitant to cut that second check and make that next investment. Only 14% of our suppliers are Fortune 1000 companies; many of our suppliers are smaller companies that would be adversely impacted by sequestration.

On the commercial side, our success speaks volumes: our PurePower Geared Turbofan engine family has more than 4,500 orders that include announced and unannounced firm orders, plus options. The economy can drive decisions in the commercial spares market—this can change our factory load significantly.

Having a balanced product portfolio of both commercial and military products benefits us; if one sector is down, the other may be up, and vice versa. 

PE: R&D obviously is an enormous part of your operation. How do your design and manufacturing teams interact? What is the outcome of that relationship?

Sylvestro: Our engineering and manufacturing teams partner closely throughout the design, production, and final assembly process to produce high-quality products that delight our customers.

Our talented engineers design our products for producability and quality. The two organizations work closely together throughout the various phases of a product’s lifecycle. We know this is a key component to our success and continue to look for more ways to integrate our design and manufacturing teams. 

PE: Finding and developing the next generation of workers for your plant is a unique challenge. How do you recruit and develop workers to meet the needs of a facility with such specific needs for skilled workers who must be entrusted with sensitive work?

Sylvestro: Pratt & Whitney is a great place to work, so we get to recruit and retain top talent. We have a multi-pronged approach to ensuring a diverse pool of skilled employees; while this list is not all-inclusive, here are just a few of the ways we build a world-class workforce:

  • Pratt & Whitney collaborates with several top-tier universities, including the University of Connecticut, Penn State, MIT, and Georgia Tech. 
  • Pratt & Whitney has sponsored the INROADS internship programs since 1989. The mission of INROADS is to develop and place talented minority youth in business and industry, and prepare them for corporate and community leadership.
  • We also have the UTC Operations Leadership Program, an opportunity for recent college graduates to complete rotations in key areas of operations and supply chain that will prepare them to be future leaders in our industry.
  • A well-educated workforce is critical for global business growth, and makes us stronger and more competitive. Our Employee Scholar Program is a comprehensive, company-sponsored employee education program that helps us attract and retain a motivated and engaged workforce.
  • New graduates in business and engineering disciplines can choose from a variety of entry-level job opportunities or rotational Leadership Programs at UTC. Meanwhile, undergraduate students can launch their careers with internships and co-ops.

PE: Now that the recession is behind us, what are the lessons you learned about your operations, your workers, and manufacturing?

Sylvestro: While the recession may technically be over, pressures remain. We are under pressure to be the best at what we do, in order to meet business obligations while managing very tight budgets. Our customers have a choice, so this leads to extremely high expectations for quality, delivery, and cost.

While our long-term outlook is very bright, we do have some near-term challenges, including a drop in demand for commercial and military spares, a declining installed base for our legacy programs, and striking a cost/profit balance for the significant investments we are making in technology for our new engine programs.

One thing I have come to recognize from the recession is how important it is that we have a strong leadership team that is willing to make tough decisions and a talented global workforce with the agility to adjust quickly while maintaining perfect quality. Flexibility is key; it allows us to shift resources to areas of the business that need them most.

I have every confidence we will be successful in positioning Pratt & Whitney for the long term and ensuring a strong future for the company, our employees, customers, and shareowners. 

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