Soaring Through Turbulent Times
Cyclone Manufacturing, Inc. is plotting its own promising course through an up and down aerospace industry. While the sector has experienced considerable turmoil recently, this family-owned firm will be well-positioned when economic conditions improve.
As profiled in the April 2019 edition of Manufacturing in Focus, Cyclone Manufacturing specializes in structural aerospace assemblies and components of varying sizes. Company headquarters are in Mississauga, Ontario and the firm operates four facilities in or near that city. Cyclone also has a manufacturing branch in Kraśnik, Poland.
Practically everything Cyclone does is geared towards aerospace. Unfortunately, international air travel has been drastically pared back because of COVID-19. This downturn has hit the aerospace manufacturing sector hard. “The airline industry is struggling,” says Robert Sochaj, Executive Vice President of Cyclone.
Founded in 1964, Cyclone has been through tough times before, however, and managed to survive and even thrive. International air travel will eventually make a comeback, driving up aerospace revenues. When the inevitable recovery occurs, Cyclone will be prepared to reap the benefits.
Ready to go
“Over the past four years, we’ve been winning new business, year over year, and with that new business, we had to increase our capacity,” says Mark Waring, Vice President of Operations. “We were ready for this to be a real busy year, then the slowdown happened. The capacity we grew is now available for new business. We’re actively going after new business at present to utilize that capacity.”
Cyclone recently added 30,000 square feet of assembly space to one of its Mississauga facilities, giving the company roughly 400,000 square feet of total space in Ontario. Further growth over the next few years is a possibility if “airline traffic starts moving up – inter-continental travel, overseas travel,” says Sochaj.
Cyclone has already attracted new business. Amongst other new business, the company was recently selected to help with major structural components in the initial production phase of the Boeing T-7 Red Hawk trainer aircraft.
“There are a couple new projects we’re working on right now. It could be about $100 million, if the two contracts were combined,” says Sochaj.
The right stuff
At the same time, the company wants to enhance its existing operations and maintain its position as a leading Canadian aerospace firm with core competencies that include CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining, tube bending and welding, sheet metal fabrication, final processing, and assembly.
For machining purposes, the company relies on 130 three, four and five-axis CNC machine tools, up from 120 at the time of the last profile. Cyclone’s CNC inventory includes models from Kitamura, OKK, Mazak, and Makino.
Multi-axis machines give Cyclone operators the ability to make intricate parts in an efficient and relatively speedy manner. Having a range of three- to five-axis models broadens the company’s machining options.
Cyclone’s sheet metal fabrication segment utilizes CNC routers and press brakes and rubber press and automated deburring equipment, among other gear. As well as forming and cutting, this division offers on-site heat treatment, freezing, aging and corrective forming.
Services rendered by the tube bending and welding department include gas-tungsten arc welding, end forming and edge finishing. This division works with heat-treatable alloy steel, carbon and alloy steel, stainless steel and nickel and nickel-base alloys and aluminum.
Final processing covers everything from heat treatment to non-destructive testing (NDT), shot peening, anodizing, passivation and applying primer and topcoat. A typical assembly, meanwhile, might involve joining nutplates, rivets, bushings and bearings with sheet metal and machined structural components.
Cyclone recently added robotic painting to its repertoire of services. This system isn’t completely automated (Cyclone has set up a hybrid solution that utilizes a “robot and a manual painter in the same line” due to the complexity of the work and parts, explains Sochaj) but the painting process has been speeded up. The firm is also in the process of introducing titanium and stainless steel pickling.
Some equipment at Cyclone has been fitted with machine-monitoring software, to provide production data and boost efficiency. Despite the economic slide, Cyclone has retained a 24/7 schedule.
Committed to quality
In addition to its lineup of cutting-edge machines, systems and services, Cyclone continues to emphasize quality control. The firm has ISO 9001:2015/AS 9100D and Nadcap (National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program) certification and maintains a quality-management team and inspection department. An in-house chemical processing lab and metrology tools such as coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) ensure that parts are made to exact OEM specifications.
As proof of the company’s devotion to quality, several of Cyclone’s services have received approvals from major aerospace OEMs. The company’s shot-peening, NDT and painting services are approved by Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, and Lockheed Martin. Cyclone has received additional OEM-approvals for heat treatment, chemical processing, assembly, and other services.
A vertically-integrated company, Cyclone offers a wide array of services for customers. In addition to manufacturing and assembly, the firm can take care of engineering planning, program management, procurement, and final inspection. Most work is self-performed. The company’s strategy is to stand out from the competition by providing as many in-house services as possible.
Cyclone has also differentiated itself by being an early-adopter of new technology and new processes. The firm was the first shop in Canada to make indexable cutters and has been using CNC machines since the early 1980s. As part of its commitment to advanced manufacturing, Cyclone has embraced digital technology.
“We have great capabilities when it comes to digital manufacturing. Today, everything’s in 3D models, and we’re very well-equipped to use 3D models on new parts. We were ahead of the curve compared to a lot of other companies,” notes Waring.
The company uses CATIA software (an aerospace industry standard) for modelling purposes. This software was developed by French firm Dassault Systèmes which specializes in 3D modelling and PLM solutions. Cyclone also utilizes CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) software programs such as Mastercam for production.
“As far as machining techniques, we do very complex components. We do parts with 300 different features on them, parts that are up to 30 feet long. We do complex, large components or small, intricate ones,” says Waring. At present, the firm’s work is split “50/50” between OEMs and their Tier-One suppliers, he says.
A demanding industry
Most of Cyclone’s work involves civilian aircraft. (About 10 percent of the company’s business is for military projects, though this might rise over the next few years, says Sochaj.) The company has built structural parts for the likes of the Airbus A330 and A350, Bombardier’s CL300/500 and Boeing’s 747, 777 and 787 aircraft. (Images and information about past projects are always available on the company website.)
The company has earned kudos for its work. Cyclone was granted “Challenger” Status in the prestigious Airbus Details Parts Partnership (D2P) program in recognition of its skills. This designation gives Cyclone an inside track on some Airbus-contract bidding opportunities, explains Sochaj. Indeed, the firm largely relies on its excellent reputation and word of mouth around a highly competitive and demanding industry to attract new clients and grow business with existing customers.
Cyclone managers don’t foresee a change in the company’s focus. There is the reality that Cyclone excels at aerospace work, and also that processes and equipment in other fields such as automotive are vastly different. While Cyclone typically works with a handful of precision components each month, automotive manufacturing often involves huge volumes of uniform parts.
Assuring the future
Due to recent industry turmoil, Cyclone’s workforce has gone from 775 employees two years ago to roughly 550 today. The Polish venture currently employs about 25 people and is thriving. The Kraśnik operation recently received approval from Airbus and Boeing to perform paint anodizing processes, says Sochaj.
As conditions improve, the company plans to return to previous levels of employment. In anticipation of that day, the Cyclone website offers a dedicated page of information to prospective employees. In addition, the company will be looking to expand its sheet metal fabrication and NDT operations and enhance its global footprint. “Large titanium machining is an area we’re hopeful to grow. Large components in titanium, up to 10 meters,” adds Waring.
Working on components of such scale shouldn’t pose a problem. The biggest part Cyclone ever made was roughly 393 inches, estimates Sochaj, which works out to just under 10 meters metric.
As to the future of the aerospace industry, Sochaj anticipates short-term pain and long-term gain: “In five years [industry conditions] will be great. But the next 12 months will be rocky,” he says.
Once Cyclone gets past this current turbulence, it’s set to soar, was the consensus of the company’s leaders. Waring gives a no-nonsense summary: “We are ready for the return of production. We’ve implemented new processes and have equipment and capacity available for the return of the [pre-COVID] production rate.”