September 15, 2020
An Incumbent Worker Training program funded primarily by East Central Illinois workNet is helping a small Champaign-based business become a key player among major aerospace manufacturers and suppliers worldwide. The program, a Quality Management System (QMS) recently approved for CU Aerospace (CUA), will allow the company to bring all aspects of manufacturing its innovative NASA-funded micropropulsion systems in-house—and establish them internationally as a micropropulsion provider.
CU Aerospace saw the need for the QMS after being selected as one of 14 awardees for the 2019 NASA Tipping Point Technology solicitation to fabricate, launch, and perform in-space operations with a nano/microsatellite. CUA co-founder and President David Carroll says this Dual Propulsion Experiment mission provides an exciting in-space demonstration that will establish flight heritage for two of CUA’s thruster systems. He points out that in the past CUA has had to outsource production of various thruster parts to other companies but doing the manufacturing themselves will help them become more competitive and increase profit margins.
“Our goal is to successfully launch and fly one or more of our micropropulsion systems in space to become one of a very select group with such success, thereby solidifying our reputation of being able to deliver flight-qualified systems,” Carroll explains. “Doing so should provide excellent long-term stability for this part of our business and dramatically accelerate sales.”
The QMS training program was necessary for CUA to be able to manufacture aerospace-acceptable thruster systems. It will also make the company eligible for AS9100D certification, a widely adopted and standardized quality management system for the aerospace industry. Without the certification, Carroll says that sales of CUA’s thruster systems would be severely limited, but by taking part in the training they can go ahead and sign contracts with aerospace companies who know that CUA will meet the essential requirements.
“This training will enable us to expand our production dramatically and thereby hire several new employees,” he says. “We want to be able to produce space-rated/qualified systems that we can formally sell to customers. Not only will the QMS allow that production to happen, it will also allow us to sell on the order of 50 to 100 of those systems annually, which means we would have to hire five to 10 new employees to handle the production load.”
The QMS training began in early May and is expected to last as long as a year. Due to COVID-19, the training is taking place entirely online and is being conducted by QualTrain Consulting. All CUA personnel, including Senior Engineers, Senior Scientists, and even Carroll himself, are taking part in the training. Carroll believes it will help CUA support existing customer requirements while providing the company with a competitive advantage that will help it develop new business. Not only beneficial to sales growth and retention, he thinks it will help CUA better control costs and improve overall customer satisfaction.
“The East Central Illinois workNet funding was a critical factor in our ability to receive this AS9100D training now as opposed to later” Carroll stresses. “This means that we can be proactive rather than reactive about an important certification in our industry and be ready for anticipated future growth for our company.”
CU Aerospace is a 22-year-old small business engaged in identifying and developing innovative new aerospace technologies, with the ultimate goal being commercialization and distribution of those technologies. Incumbent Worker Training, like the QMS funded by East Central Illinois workNet, helps companies train their existing employees, increase productivity, and boost a company’s competitiveness by addressing skill gaps in its existing workforce and averting layoffs.