By Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times
Engineering firm Electroimpact of Mukilteo — which supplies aerospace giants Boeing and Airbus with manufacturing equipment — has hit a lull in the cycle of new airplane work and is laying off 66 employees, about 9 percent of its workforce.
“The reason is lack of work. What we’re missing now is a monster anchor project,” said Electroimpact Vice President John Hartmann. “We finished with Boeing’s 777X, the Airbus A350, the Embraer E2, the Airbus A400M. These were massive projects that took over 100 engineers. We don’t have that right now.”
Boeing is not yet ready to launch its next new airplane, and Airbus is waiting until Boeing moves.
“It’s not like we are going out of business. We have a substantial backlog,” he added. “But new work isn’t replacing old work right now.”
The company had already contracted somewhat to about 700 employees, Hartmann said.
Electroimpact is one of the star engineering firms in local aerospace.
Its engineers have designed, built and installed most of the automated equipment that makes the wings for both Airbus and Boeing jets.
Locally, it supplied the robotic machines that fabricate the carbon composite wings of the Boeing 777X in Everett, as well as the new highly automated cells where those wings will be assembled — which are very similar to the cells it supplied that Airbus uses to assemble the wings of the A350 in Broughton, Wales.
Electroimpact also supplied the automated riveting machines that drill and fasten the Boeing 737 wing skin panels in Renton, as well as similar machines used to assemble Airbus A320 wings in Wales.
There will almost certainly be follow-on orders for 777X and A350 equipment as Boeing and Airbus ramp up those jet programs. But Electroimpact has supplied what’s needed on those programs for the moment.
The most labor-intensive work comes when designing from scratch a new manufacturing system for a new airplane program.
Boeing is currently studying the potential for a new airplane program dubbed the New Mid-market Airplane (NMA), but it hasn’t reached the decision yet to go ahead.
It’s possible Boeing may pull the trigger on the NMA this year, but many in the industry think it’s more likely next year.
Meanwhile, Airbus is not talking about a new airplane yet, content to ramp up the A350 and wait for Boeing to move first.
“Aerospace is very cyclical. Yet for us, it’s been a great run, 15 years, because of all these new airplanes,” Hartmann said. “Now everybody is taking a breather.”
Employees were told at a meeting before the end of last year that a contraction was coming. “Everybody has seen the writing on the wall,” he said.
Affected employees were informed in one-on-one meetings this week. “It’s gut-wrenching,” Hartmann said.
Ben Hempstead, Electroimpact’s chief of staff, said the employment downturn is unrelated to the controversy stirred last year by the company’s founder and president, Peter Zieve.
Zieve, who contributed $1 million to the election campaign of President Donald Trump, had voiced hatred of Muslims and in emails to employees derided immigrants from Third World countries as “terrorist savages.”
After an investigation by the state attorney general, Electroimpact paid a $485,000 fine and developed a hiring plan to eliminate discrimination.
Subsequently, Zieve ran for the Mukilteo City Council last November, and lost.
Hempstead said that only one small customer expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s plan to address and recover from the controversy and chose to withhold business until later.
Otherwise, he said, the employment downturn “is 100 percent related to completing our anchor projects such as the A350.”
“Our business is scaled to do that size of work,” said Hempstead. “As the demand for these large projects has slowed down, we need to scale our capacity to better match to the work we have ahead of us.”
Hempstead said the company is now right-sized for the work it has in hand and no further adjustments are contemplated at this time.