Interview: Sam Foster, Erickson
AirMed&Rescue spoke with Sam Foster, Manufacturing Manager at Erickson about legacy, innovation, and confidence developed through a focus around sustainability
You have a deep history in making older assets relative; what knowledge, capability and experience does Erickson possess in legacy fleet sustainment?
After 50 years of operating the S-64 platform, Erickson is tried and true out of necessity. To me, sustainment is a company-wide mindset focused on meeting the needs of our internal teams and our external customers. Sustainability includes all the company’s resources, key industry partnerships, and a crucial supply chain.
Erickson holds a diverse mix of experienced skillsets including maintenance, repair, overhaul (MRO); manufacturing; engineering; quality assurance; asset planning; procurement; warehousing/logistics; technical publications; training; safety; and many other supporting roles.
Fleet planning must be carefully choreographed, we have talented teams studying, anticipating, and planning those activities many years in advance. Erickson is proven in its sustainment of our flagship S-64 platform, and we are applying that same experience and capability to other programs.
Innovation is clearly key; how will Erickson take the legacy forward to continue to provide turnkey solutions?
Erickson must remain relevant and competitive in our industry, we must improve our processes, and we must bridge the gap in asset shortages and obsolete parts. For example, several years ago the Erickson team worked to develop the composite main rotor blade (CMRB) for the S-64.
Sustainability includes all the company’s resources, key industry partnerships, and a crucial supply chain
This project aimed to solve an eventual problem for impending retirement of the metallic blades, but the result also significantly improved the aircraft’s performance. The CMRB project reflects a high level of complexity we are all proud of, and it speaks volumes that the company is willing to reinvest in their flagship platform. Projects like this give our teams valuable experience and greater confidence to pursue worthy endeavors in the future, and the industry is taking notice of our innovations.
Do employees feel empowered to make decisions during the production process to deliver what they have been tasked to build?
Yes, employee input and feedback are critical to production. Product safety is job number one, and we all have the onus to ensure our decisions support that objective. We employ expert mechanics, technicians, welders, electricians, and machinists, and they often provide the most impactful suggestions and collectively make decisions based on best practice. Together, they strive to figure out ways to make extremely difficult products they’ve never worked with before, and they also collaborate in implementing changes of existing processes to increase efficiency.
Carbon fibre blade development was a project that was taken on in house. How did this challenge the team and their capabilities?
The Erickson team is highly experienced in the legacy metal rotor blade programs, so naturally, they were able to leverage their collective experience and knowledge in blade fabrication and structural adhesive bonding.
Metal and composite blades require vastly different techniques in production, but the metal rotor blade programs gave the team a great headstart on key fundamentals to build upon. Initially, personnel were formally trained in advanced composites design, manufacturing, inspection, and repair, which provided a much softer transition into composite production. Additional equipment and some facility modifications were required for production, some smart and talented people got together to work out the best production flow and get everything set up within the existing blade facility.
This was an incredibly significant project with a steep learning curve, and we had our share of challenges both technically and logistically. As with any project within Erickson, we rely on solid teamwork and tenacity to persevere. The composite main rotor blade program has and continues to demonstrate those core principles.
Erickson is unique in its approach in building partnerships with likeminded companies in the industry. How does this benefit your overall growth as a business?
Partnerships provide a great platform to collaborate and learn alongside other industry leaders. This allows Erickson to become better informed, better connected, provides a wealth of technical expertise, sharpens our project experience, and increases the depth of resources.