This article appeared in the December 2020 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
Aircraft Precision Products, Inc. (APPI), a leading component supplier to the commercial and military aircraft engine industry, is unique in a whole host of ways, not the least of which was moving its headquarters in 1972 to a small town in the middle of Michigan that doesn’t even have a commercial airport.
It’s a great place to raise a family. Crime is low. Schools are good. Traffic is predicable. And the work ethic is exceptional. Which also makes Ithaca a great place to build a business.
“A lot of machine shops don’t want to get into the complex, high-end machining associated with a difficult industry like aircraft engines,” says Bill Henderson, President of APPI. “It’s partly because of the quality systems, but also because we’re really pushing process capability with the tolerances and alloys that we machine.”
In the highly competitive global aerospace sector, no two companies are exactly alike, but APPI is unique and sets itself apart in the marketplace.
“Something that distinguishes us is that we do our own thermal spray coating,” explains Henderson. “Most companies in our field do either the machining or the coating. They don’t do both.”
But Henderson and his experienced APPI team does. They take on many of the exacting challenges of the aircraft engine industry. And they do it exceedingly well while nestled in the beautiful rural scenery of Ithaca, smack dab in the middle of the mitten.
“In truth, it’s our people who really set us apart,” adds Henderson. “Someone with a lot of money could duplicate our facility and our equipment fairly easily. But they would struggle in our business because they wouldn’t have our employees.”
Henderson is obviously proud of his workforce and he has a right to be. Over half of APPI’s highly skilled employees have been with the company for more than 20 years. They understand the materials. They embrace the customer requirements. And, at the end of the day, they possess the specialized knowledge to make things happen.
Henderson boils it all down to this: “We operate in a business that relies very heavily on the dedication and expertise of its employees.”
A big reason for this is the extreme tolerances and quality control associated with APPI’s operations. They manufacture under high-end AS9100-D control, sometimes described as ISO-9000 plus. But, in Henderson’s eyes, it’s more than a quality system, it’s a management system. And that goes back to the skill, dedication and involvement of APPI’s people making the difference.
“It’s our people who set us apart,” reiterates Henderson, which is true. But the same can be said about how he and APPI treat their people — like owners.
“We take things to the next level by being an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) company,” Henderson says. “It means our employees also own our company, so they have a vested interest in how well we do.”
This not only ensures premium quality and attention to detail, it resonates with APPI’s customers. In fact, Pratt & Whitney, one of APPI’s newer clients, has a preference for doing business with ESOP companies because employees are more invested.
And it works. From quality, to morale, to winning new business, as you can see from Bill Henderson and his team, there’s simply no downside to having great employees — and treating them right.