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Forging ahead

Azusa-based California AMFORGE wins prestigious Nunn-Perry Award

By Evelyn Barge, Staff Writer

Article Launched: 04/10/2008 02:36:15 PM PDT

Image of CEO Susan Congalton

Susan Congalton, CEO of California AMFORGE Corporation, stands below a picture of her father Arthur Tichenor, the company's founder, at the Azusa facility on Thursday, April 3. (James Carbone/Correspondent)

In this ashen landscape marked by the glow and spark of molten metals, temperatures start at over 2,300 degrees and the pressure can reach up to 6,000 tons.

It may sound like life on another planet, but these conditions are part of the day-to-day operations in the forge shop at California AMFORGE Corp., where metals are heated to a plastic condition and then pressed into steel forgings that will eventually become key components in jet engines, helicopters and even oil rigs.

Chairman Emeritus Art Tichenor originally founded the Azusa-based company in 1952 to support the aerospace industry and Defense Department efforts during the Korean War, said Kenneth Klein, vice president of marketing and sales.

Now, some 56 years later — and with Tichenor's daughter Susan Congalton at its helm — the forgings company has received the prestigious Nunn-Perry Award for outstanding performance in the Defense Department's Mentor-Protege Program, along with Cal-AMFORGE's mentor company, Rolls Royce North America.

"(The award) really substantiates the quality of our operation and that we are established and working to move forward," said Lee Edwards, director of international marketing and sales.

Crafted in 1990 by former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn and implemented by former Defense Secretary William Perry, the Mentor-Protege Program assists smaller, disadvantaged businesses by partnering them with larger defense contractors to help expand their operations and, in turn, their contribution to the nation's defense.

"The program was designed to help small businesses — woman-owned, minority-owned, any disadvantaged-type business — to achieve goals to stay competitive with the big guys," said Kirk Daley, director of marketing.

More than 150 U.S. businesses are currently active in the Mentor-Protege Program, Klein said, but only eight are selected each year to receive the Nunn-Perry Award.

At the March 12 awards ceremony held in Daytona Beach, Daley and Ryan Becker, who works in the forge shop, accepted the award on behalf of the entire Cal-AMFORGE organization.

"We thought it would be really good to send someone from the labor side ... the people that are actually out there touching the parts and making them," Klein said.

Becker said the experience was an honor.

"I think it shows good on our company," he said. "I'm one of the guys on the ground, and I've been involved with Rolls Royce since they came to us. Instead of someone who wasn't really involved, they sent someone from the ground floor."

The two-year partnership agreement with mentor firm Rolls Royce began in 2006 and focused on setting goals to improve Cal-AMFORGE's productivity and quality performance, Edwards said.

Representatives from Rolls Royce helped Cal-AMFORGE develop and apply an across-the-board manufacturing program, known in the industry as Six Sigma, to increase capacity and efficiency and improve quality, said Winston Colinco, program director for lean manufacturing with Rolls Royce North America.

"The program is designed to have everyone under the organization — from management down to the work force — involved," Colinco said. "Training was extensive and involved almost everybody."

Four teams were deployed to focus on the core areas of development, and certain employees — designated as green belts — were assigned to act as

Men working in the forge shop

Men work in the forge shop at California AMFORGE Corporation in Azusa, which recently received the prestigious Nunn-Perry Award given by the Department of Defense under the Mentor-Protege Program. (James Carbone/Correspondent)

specialized leaders in achieving Cal-AMFORGE's lean manufacturing goals, he said.

Thanks in no small part to Rolls Royce's mentorship, the Azusa company increased its work force by more than 40 percent over the last two years, Daley said.

"We're growing so fast," he said. "This program is helping us find ways to be more efficient."

In 2003, Cal-AMFORGE had about 90 employees and conducted $19 million in annual sales; Now the company employs 160 workers and last year recorded $50 million in annual sales.

The agreement with Rolls Royce North America alone has proved to be a lucrative one, Daley said, as the Indianapolis-based aerospace company is now a top-10 customer of Cal-AMFORGE.

The company's growth

Men working in the forge shop

Men work in the forge shop at California AMFORGE Corporation in Azusa, which recently received the prestigious Nunn-Perry Award given by the Department of Defense under the Mentor-Protege Program. (James Carbone/Correspondent)

is also sustained by demand from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a booming oil and gas industry, Klein said.

At Cal-AMFORGE's 85,000-square-foot Azusa property, most of the parts that comprise the compressor section of General Electric's T700 engine are manufactured.

"That engine is the power plant for both the Black Hawk and Apache helicopters," Klein said. "Those are the primary battle machines for what's going on in Afghanistan and Iraq today.

Parts for commercial and private aircraft like the Boeing 737 and Cessna planes are also among the products that are manufactured at Cal-AMFORGE, which employs eight mechanical presses that range from 750 tons up to 6,000 tons. The company also produces all of its own dies, the molds that define the shape each part will take.

While some of the forgings measure just inches in length, Cal-AMFORGE's largest part weighs in at 1,250 pounds. And all of the parts must be rigorous enough to weather harsh environmental extremes.

"If one of our parts were to fail," Daley said, "that could jeopardize everyone on board."

Next up on the company's agenda is working to establish a stronger overseas presence, which will help Cal-AMFORGE sharpen its competitive edge in the aerospace industry.

"What we're doing is taking advantage of the experience and expertise, the approval and quality ratings we have within the industry, and we're making this known in international markets," Edwards said. "We have a presence in a lot of areas now that we have to expand on."

Along with the recognition from the Nunn-Perry Award, it's an effort that could set the tone not just for Cal-AMFORGE, but also for aerospace businesses throughout the region, Colinco said.

"It's significant to California," he said, "because there's a lot of aerospace manufacturers in the state, and it improves the competitiveness of the whole area."