Electroimpact, Inc. – An Interview with Benjamen D. Hempstead, Mechanical Engineering Lead
Electroimpact, Inc. is a premier supplier of automated equipment to the worldwide aircraft industry. In this interview, Ben Hempstead, Mechanical Engineering Lead, explains steps the company is taking to expand its business in China.
Q. What does your company do?
A. Electroimpact is the premier supplier for turn-key automation systems for commercial and military aircraft assembly. This work includes machines, fixtures, and tools for assembly as well as Automated Fiber Placement.
We are a Tier 2 supplier for all the large commercial aircraft companies. We fill factories with equipment used by these companies to build and assemble wings and fuselages for aircraft.
Q. What is your function there?
A. I wear several hats. My primary function is a Project Manager for automation systems. This work includes technical reviews, design, analysis, and leadership for teams of engineers working together to create a product.
I also advise my executive on current topics in aerospace in Washington including legislative issues, human resources, and anything else he asks me to look into. I am always on the lookout for opportunities to wave the EI flag both to the community and internally, to help promote and maintain the essential corporate culture within our employees.
Q. What is a key principle of your company’s success strategy?
A. Electroimpact exists to have fun and make money by designing, manufacturing, installing and servicing quality automated equipment and aircraft manufacturing solutions.
We are an engineer-driven company. We are able to maintain continuity throughout the project process because the same engineer is involved in every stage of the project, from initial planning and development, to final assembly, tooling setting and buyoff.
The engineer who designs the tool or machine also is responsible for detailed drawings, coordinating manufacturing, assembly, and any tooling setting or machine alignment. This minimizes the disconnects that happen at a typical company with an engineer, drafter, manufacturer, and assembler.
Our success comes from the innovation culture we have built around that sense of purpose. As an example of that culture, I’ve said before: Our success begins from a simple principle, ‘if you see the problem, you own the solution.’
That statement is not part of our company policy; rather, it is embedded in our culture. The concept is in two parts: that all EI employees are empowered to identify problems in their work or in others’ work. As I walk around the company, if I see something on a screen or on a workbench that looks strange, I’ll stop and ask about it. I always learn something. Sometimes the other guy learns something from me, too.
The second part is how our company success is the responsibility of all employees. If we see something that is not right, we are expected to pursue a solution for that. That might even result in a significant investment in time if the issue is large-scale.
Q. Tell us about your company’s work on Boeing 767s.
A. We have recently been awarded a contract to supply new machines and tools for the 767 wing spar assembly at Boeing Everett. The original equipment is old and we are excited to provide replacement equipment with modern technology to enable many more years of production of this aircraft.
Q. You have also sold two machines to Turkish Aircraft Industries. What is the purpose of these machines?
A. These machines use a squeeze process to form rivets in aluminum assemblies such as single-aisle fuselage panels. This completes our coverage of the riveting market, such that we can now install all types of rivets with our equipment. Market interest in this equipment has been intense for us.
Q. You also do work on transport aircraft, right?
A. Yes. We have recently been awarded contracts for extensive work in building the KC-390 transport aircraft at Embraer. Large investments by this relatively new customer is a validation of our product and company.
Q. In addition to your work on Boeing 767s, you also assist with the manufacture of 787s.
A. Electroimpact supplied drilling machines to the 787 Line 2 in Charleston SC. These machines help enable Boeing to produce a high-quality aircraft in a new factory by drilling the Side-of-Body joint and fuselage with automated machines. These machines enable higher rates with high-quality production.
Electroimpact has received an order for follow-on Automated Fiber Placement machines for Spirit in Wichita, KS. These machines will enable Spirit to meet Boeing’s increased build rate for the 787 by working alongside the initial machines to produce Section 41, the nose of the 787.
Q. Do you see opportunities for your business in China or other parts of Asia?
A. We have delivered a high-speed riveting machine and fixtures to Xian Aircraft Industries (XAC) in China. This machine is entering production to rivet wing skin/stringer panel assemblies for the ARJ-21 aircraft.
Following on this success we are bidding on numerous capital-intensive projects related to the C919 and other aircraft. We are expanding our team of Mandarin-speaking engineers to enable our success in this market.
Q. It sounds as if you’re excited about the long-term prospects for your riveting machines at Boeing and with other customers.
A. Definitely. Our Mobile Robot systems with high accuracy packages are selling very well. This enabling technology brings aerospace tolerance assembly to the low-volume or smaller customer via a highly capable yet lower-cost system. Our work with the 767 spar will hopefully lead to further Boeing Tooling work with which we hope to support Boeing on any current or future aircraft program.
Q. What suggestions would you offer to businesses in China that might want to do more business with the United States?
A. I would like companies in China to understand that many US companies have a distrust of the Chinese market due to allegations of IP infringement. Most US companies are accustomed to doing business the American way, which can be a cultural challenge for Chinese customers. Respecting that not all technology is on the table will go a long way in reassuring US companies.
Q. Is there some obstacle that you overcame in doing business in China?
A. We overcame many language and cultural barriers by contracting with a technically-capable local representative. This rep could translate not only literally but also the spirit of our ideas into terms our customer in China could understand. Being able to trust this person as our company face in China was a big step forward.
Q. What does your role and responsibilities in your company mean to you personally?
A. Many times I feel like a cheerleader within the company, carefully examining the hows and whys of our business and highlighting what is working while trying to improve what is not.
It is very satisfying to interview engineering applicants and see their eyes light up as I describe our work environment, which was created and is maintained deliberately to be the ultimate engineer’s company. I also enjoy working on many projects across the company as it enables me to better understand how and why we move through the market like we do.
I also take great pride in representing my company to community and other leaders, as it is so easy to show off our talented people and the work they do.