Everett engineering firm grows into trusted Boeing supplier

EVERETT — It started with six.

Six engineers formed Global Aerosystems in 2006 with a plan to provide their services to the Boeing Co. and develop original aerospace products.

Within a year, the Everett-based company employed 24 engineers. That number increased to 140 by 2009.

It’s the kind of business growth that gets noticed and rewarded.

Global soon had suitors. In 2010, the original founders of the firm sold to Kaman Corp., a $1.6 billion Connecticut-based company employing 5,000 people around the world.

Earlier this year, Boeing recognized the efforts of the Everett group, now called Kaman Engineering Services, with a 2012 supplier of the year award.

How did this engineering group become successful so quickly?

“Engineering services are always needed,” said John Thornquist, director of Boeing programs for Kaman. “We knew where to get the high talent.”

Kaman Engineering Services is more than a headhunter of highly experienced aerospace engineers, said Cliff Ward, the company’s vice president. The company not only locates skilled engineers — the average has more than 20 years’ experience — but also manages those engineers, taking responsibility for their work.

That fits into the model Boeing has outlined, one that shifts risks and costs to suppliers.

Thornquist, one of the founders of Global Aerosystems, said the engineers take the company’s reputation seriously. If a Kaman engineer isn’t performing, it’s more likely a fellow Kaman employee will bring it to management’s attention than Boeing would, he said.

“They take our reputation, our brand, seriously,” Thornquist said.

Part of that brand is one built on locating engineers who can handle challenging engineering work. When the contract from Boeing is completed, they may or may not have work through Kaman. That allows Boeing to keep well-compensated engineers off its books when they’re not needed and helps keep the jet maker’s employment levels relatively steady. Being acquired by Kaman mean more opportunities for engineers to stay on as employees rather than look for new contract work, Thornquist said.

Because they’re considered “surge” capacity, Kaman engineers haven’t seen animosity from Boeing’s unionized engineers, he said.

Initially, the firm’s engineers worked mostly on the 747-8 program. Boeing diverted engineers from the 747-8 program to the 787 as other Dreamliner suppliers struggled. Boeing turned to the newly formed engineering firm for help. As the need grew, Global’s founders relied on the engineers they had hired to locate others. The firm’s work on the 747-8 was credited with saving Boeing $18 million, one of the reasons Kaman won a supplier of the year award.

Since Kaman took over, the company’s focus has shifted somewhat, Ward said. Kaman wants its engineering services group to be less dependent on Boeing. As a corporation, Kaman is looking to diversify its skill set, customer base and geographical locations, he said. Doing so will help Kaman give its engineers better opportunities, Ward said.

In the meantime, prospects for new work should abound shortly as Boeing begins engineering work on development programs like the 787-10 and updated 777.

“The 777X will be a real opportunity for us,” Thornquist said.

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