HELICOPTERS Builders are reeling as parts prices and lead times soar

Oct 01, 2007 | 03:05 PM |

Streamlining the production process might be the long-term solution helicopter makers need to overcome the myriad obstacles in getting their aircraft to market.

Bell Helicopter Textron, a Fort Worth, Texas, subsidiary of Textron Inc., is turning to partnerships with suppliers as a way to speed up the time between orders and deliveries.

"We're looking at leaning out and streamlining our supply base—reducing the number of suppliers we have and changing the relationship from our supplier to our partner," a company spokesman said. We want to do more sharing in terms of our needs and their capabilities as suppliers. We want to work with the supply chain so they can produce more and we can produce more."

Any potential solution must start with aluminum and titanium producers, who contribute in a big way to the bottleneck due to the lack of raw materials needed to produce helicopters. This backlog is creating a lag time of 18 to 24 months between order entry and delivery of the finished product to customers.

"Nobody can produce at the pace needed," the Bell spokesman said. "We have increased our production rates every year for the past several years but there are lead times for everything, so we can't ramp up production as much as we would like, or based on demand, because we need to wait up to two years for some parts."....

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