By Nicole Tuttle, For The Macomb Daily
U.S. Rep. Candice Miller toured AIP Aerospace Global Tooling Systems in Macomb Township on June 16 primarily to learn more about the company’s defense manufacturing work.
“Obviously they serve as a major presence in my congressional district,” Miller, who represents Michigan’s 10th Congressional District, said.
Global Tooling Systems designs and manufactures large high precision assembly jigs used to assemble aircraft including the Boeing 787, 737 and 777, Airbus’s A350, Lockheed’s F-35 fighter, Sikorsky CH-53K helicopter, Bombardier 5000/6000, and the Gulfstream 650.
The company is owned by American Industrial Partners, a New York-based private equity group that encompasses several different companies.
Miller was particularly interested in the company’s recently purchase of Brown Aerospace in the Port Huron area, a firm that focuses largely on military work and has done a great deal of production tooling for Lockheed’s F-35 fighter.
“I thought it was interesting, the type of work they do in our district, and I wanted to take the opportunity to tour. I had met some of their folks in my office and they talked about the F-35. They invited me to stop by,” Miller said.
The visit was arranged after Miller met with AIP Aerospace CEO Brian Williams earlier this year, according to AIP Aerospace Global Tooling Systems Executive Vice President/General Manager Chet Olekszyk. He said Miller met with Williams in Washington, D.C., at a 2014 F-35 Supplier Conference and invited her to tour the AIP Aerospace Global Tooling Systems location in Macomb Township.
Olekszyk said the tour was designed to illustrate the company’s capacity, capability and past programs. The company has developed multi-variant assembly tool processes to allow for different versions of aircraft in the same tools, according to Olekszyk.
“We area a tooling supplier; that each item is one of a kind, or, the first of its kind. What we offer is the technical expertise in an advanced design and manufacturing facility,” Olekszyk said.
Olekszyk added the company’s products go nationwide and worldwide, and that it does not rely on the auto industry.
“We have become an aerospace and defense supplier. The most parallel product would be automotive checking fixtures, gage family tooling and specialty tooling,” Olekszyk said.
Miller pointed to the growing defense support within the 10th Congressional district.
“It is good to see that folks in our district and region and state are getting some of the defense contracting because if you look at a number of our companies around here, they have become involved in the auto industry over the years, which is good; but the ability to diversify and to do defense contracting, in this case aerospace, is a natural transition,” Miller said.
According to its website, AIP Aerospace Global Tooling Systems was established in 1995 and its facility features more than 215,000 square feet of floor space. AIP Aerospace Global Tooling Systems has been in Macomb Township since 2009 and has a total of 291 employees, according to Olekszyk. He said the company plans to hire in the areas of engineering, design and skilled craftsmen in the next few years.
“We anticipate approximately an additional 75 jobs in the near future,” Olekszyk said.
The company has had some trouble locating the kinds of skilled employees it needs but has developed a tool builder training program in cooperation with Macomb Community College to help alleviate this concern.
“We are actually working very hard at the apprenticeship programs and trying to educate tomorrow’s youth, because it is very hard to find talent out there today. A lot of guys have retired. A lot of men and women have retired from this business,” Olekszyk said.
Miller was pleased to hear that the company was willing to work in close contact with the college.
“I am writing an op-ed right now for one of the papers about how we have done great as a society, I guess, telling our kids, ‘Oh, you have all got to have a four-year degree.’ So they all run out to get the four-year degree. Half of them are graduating with something that is not even marketable and they have got $100,000 in student loan debt. … What we have not done so good at is telling them that you know, we still need electricians, plumbers, vocational education, welders, everything else. And so there is a huge gap between skill sets, particularly here in Michigan with the manufacturing base that we have,” Miller said.
Olekszyk said that AIP Aerospace Global Tooling Systems also installs the tools.
“We help the organizations that we are doing the work for develop the tooling suite and then we go and install it, and now our business is also servicing that equipment,” Olekszyk said.
Airplane wing assembly is a large facet of the company, according to Olekszyk.
“We are one of the largest wing assembly factories in the country. We do more assembly tools on wings than anybody else,” Olekszyk said.
When Miller addressed the company’s workers, she explained her interest in learning the company’s mix of military and commercial aircraft.
“Whether you’re working on the commercial side or the military side, you’re all a critical component. … We may not be the Arsenal of Democracy anymore in Southeast Michigan. Now I think we are like the Arsenal of Innovation. We are the Arsenal of Innovation because what do we know how to do here? We build things. That is what we do. We know how to build things. We build them well and high quality and always with an eye on customer satisfaction and customer service. I’ve certainly had an enjoyable tour here,” Miller said.