Tucked away just off Tulsa’s Arkansas River west bank sits a plant that has managed to fly under the radar for more than 70 years. Except for those in the aerospace industry, where the company is uniquely poised as a total solution provider for military, regional and commercial applications.
TAT Limco Thermal Solutions was established as Long Island Metal Company in 1946 in New York City. The company started as a manufacturer of precision parts for the aircraft, electronics, industrial, government and commercial markets, specializing in a variety of high efficient heat exchangers, oil coolers, condensers and fuel heaters, to name a few. Throughout the years Limco has prided itself on looking for expansion opportunities and providing the flexibility and customer care that has become the cornerstone of its company culture.
In fact, the company’s complete manufacturing line now services some of the biggest names in commercial and military aircraft, as well as land systems.
Dr. Yair Raz says he was extremely impressed with Limco’s processes and commitment to excellence when he arrived in 2012 to assume the role as president. But, as with other companies he had led throughout his long and distinguished career, Raz saw potential to help the company elevate to new heights in the aerospace industry.
Upon his arrival at Limco, the company had already begun to implement Lean Manufacturing principles, organizing the shop to make production flow more smoothly and efficiently.
Lean Manufacturing creates more value for customers with fewer resources. A lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has close to zero waste.
When Mani Karupiah, a Manufacturing Extension Agent with the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, first stepped foot it the plant a couple of months ago, he was amazed at the cleanliness and efficiencies he witnessed. His Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance predecessor Curtis Evans had worked with Limco for several years, helping initiate and launch the Lean concept and helped lay the foundation to the get the company where it is today.
Karupiah is one of 15 extension agents working in communities across the state. He is sponsored locally by Northeastern State University.
“I have never seen any plant with a cleaner environment,” he says. “When I first came to the Limco plant I felt it had a similar look to the Sony plant in Japan that I worked in.”
Karupiah is excited about working with Limco and has no doubt the company will become a pilot model for other industries throughout Oklahoma.
“When you talk to employees you can feel how much they enjoy the continuous improvements going on here,” he says. “Every individual I talk to, they are involved, and you just don’t see that in every organization.”
Karupiah adds that the personal touch of Raz is refreshing and provides a strong catalyst that continues to propel Limco.
“That personal touch is something you normally don’t see in an organization. Many leaders will delegate and wait for results,” he says. “The leadership and culture is all aligned very well, and I have no doubt they will become a model for other companies across the state.”
The Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance has worked with Limco on a variety of projects over the past 20 years. The Manufacturing Alliance’s diversified services focus on improving a company’s bottom lines through concepts like Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing, while growing the entire firm through new product development, strategic planning and expanded markets.
The partnership began when Evans initiated a meeting to discuss growth and efficiency opportunities. Over the years he developed a trusted relationship with the Limco management team and employees throughout the company.
“I introduced and helped them get started with continuous improvement projects, as well as connecting them to the appropriate training opportunities through TulsaTech,” says Evans, adding the Alliance also assisted the company in obtaining a grant from the Department of Defense through OSU-IT. “With this grant they were able to attain NADCAP accreditation. The National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program opened the door to numerous new customers and markets.
In fact, NADCAP certification helped Limco increase sales by more than $2 million. Limco’s market share increased dramatically and is now number No. 5 in the world.
Evans says many of the changes and successes started with upper management recognizing the possibilities these modifications could make.
“Companies need to understand the need for culture change,” says Evans. “The past 20 years have seen management styles changing, and we have seen the benefits of continuous improvement and developing this culture. It allows the company to get much better employment engagement and when done right, the employees help drive the changes.”
Raz was no stranger to the Lean concept, witnessing it propel other companies.
Shortly after beginning his tenure at Limco, Raz visited the facility one weekend only to be greeted by employees painting floors and walls, and replacing lighting to ensure there were clearly marked spaces for equipment and materials.
“When employees come in on a weekend, moving equipment and painting on their own time, that shows real ownership,” says Raz. “There now is training every month for employees with real attention to details.”
Raz acknowledges these positive changes would not be possible without employees’ buy-in to changes and their willingness to embrace them.
“After all, people are the only thing you have,” he says. “When I’m asked what differentiates us from our competition, I always say it’s our people. We have worked hard to create a culture, and it’s a culture that continues to move us in the right direction. Our company is moving toward excellence.
While Raz has no problem bragging about his employees and the strides they continue to make toward quality, the numbers speak for themselves. Limco has doubled the number of customers and output of its factory while managing to maintain a workforce of about 175 people.
Dan Kraft, Executive Vice President, says in the past seven years Limco has added buildings on its seemingly landlocked West Tulsa property, and has initiated and fostered joint ventures and partnerships across the globe.
“The concept is that this is the center of excellence,” says Kraft. “We are constantly expanding our business out.”
The company ships nearly 1,000 units a month, and gains an average of two to three customers from across the globe each month. Limco takes great pride in providing industry leading turnaround time in its repair facility. Where many MRO shops traditionally have long lead times, Limco consistently strives to beat its current average of less than 14 calendar days, something the company accomplished by employing Lean Manufacturing processes with the help of the Manufacturing Alliance.
This, coupled with unique skills in vacuum brazing to accomplish an FAA approved process of LimCore, which restores the unit back to zero time and in full compliance with the original manufacturer’s specifications, continues to provide a strong blueprint for growth.
“We are making continuous improvements, always looking for the best practice ideas,” Raz concludes. “With the help of the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, we truly are embracing excellence in every step of the business.”