Uxbridge-based FSL Aerospace (01895 817600) is an intermediary between large aerospace and defence firms and suppliers of a variety of products, taking in fasteners, fixings and associated components – a supply chain management operation.

Basically, such companies reduce the number of suppliers that a large firm needs to deal with, while making sure deliveries are on time and quality right. FSL’s area of operation is in fasteners and fixings, but, as purchasing manager Nicola Woodley explains, the catch-all of ‘associated components’ takes in “anything, really”, so mechanical parts or assemblies, plus bushing, seals and gaskets, both standard or ‘made to print’, with the latter also taking in plating operations. The company tends to avoid electrical items, she explains, because it doesn’t have the facilities required to fully inspect them, but adds: “If our client wants something, we try our best to get it for them.”

The company employs around 25, had a turnover last financial year of £6.4 million and is one of the smaller outfits in this area of activity, but claims a differentiated service. “We are unique, really. We try to act as a one-stop shop for our clients and aim to give them good service. There are other companies out there like us that are bigger stockists, whereas we don’t stock that much, other than for our direct-line-feed customers, where we do hold stocks here,” she explains. So, versus those larger companies, it is the mix of standard and made-to-print products, all from one source, that distinguishes FSL Aerospace. “We cover the whole range, rather than say ‘we can do any British parts or any American parts’, for example,” Woodley assures.

With its roots in 1985, during its 2015/16 financial year, the company grew 18% and is targeting 5% this financial year. This growth will most likely come from growing its existing client business, as opposed to looking for more companies to service, says the purchasing manager.

FSL Aerospace supplies fasteners, fixings and associated components

Serving many hundreds of companies, FSL Aerospace does have a top 16 large-spending-clients list that draws its attention. It also has a top 23 suppliers list, with these companies monitored on a monthly basis, but in total has about 400 approved suppliers. She adds: “Because we have such a broad range, we have to have all sorts of different suppliers on hand.” That number includes both UK and overseas suppliers, with the split being around 50-50.

But on made-to-print parts, the supplier count is around 100, and those are all based in the UK. Explains Woodley: “While we might potentially source made-to-print parts from overseas, I just don’t see the need. We have got all we need in the UK; we have good relationships with our suppliers, they provide an excellent service and, to be honest with you, within the UK they can quote all the capability we require, the certification, for example – sometimes when you go outside the UK, you can lose that.”

The made-to-print side of the business is a key element of FSL Aerospace’s activity. “This side has grown dramatically from when we started and is quite a big part of the business, probably approaching half.”

FSL Aerospace’s made-to-print supplier numbers include some that have been with the company for many years, with a few tending to be first port of call. Some four years ago, the company introduced monitoring of on-time delivery and right-first time, for example, for some of its larger suppliers, and it is to these that it looks to source from initially “because we know their pricing is good, they deliver on time and they deliver parts that are right”.

For these top suppliers, a monthly analysis is undertaken and each company scored for on-time delivery, right-first-time achievement, response time to progress enquiries (required within 24 hours) and, when quoting, whether the company covered all that was asked for, thus avoiding the need for FSL to call for more information.

On a quarterly basis, all that data is collated and suppliers gain a bronze, silver or gold award. And on a twice-yearly basis, companies are either visited or they visit FSL Aerospace. As Woodley highlights, this monitoring is key, since the supply chain operation is an SC21 Bronze one and so has to monitor its own operations, which are impacted by its suppliers’ performance. She says: “It’s all about good communication with our supplier base. We like to build relationships; it’s not just a matter of ‘you’ve quoted, here’s an order’. We find that works a lot better.”

And, where necessary, FSL Aerospace works with suppliers towards joint objectives, if either party needs to improve some aspect of its operation, she says, adding: “We are always open to suggestions and willing to change, but expect that of our suppliers. It has worked well over the four years that we have been doing this.” Cost-down or speedier delivery need may prompt such action, for example.

But for FSL, with its SC21 programme connection, continuous improvement is part of its own business activities. Its important achievements, reported in January, are rolling 12-month performance figures of 98.1% for on-time deliveries and 99.39% for ‘quality right first time’.

Woodley says the company does look for new suppliers “in areas that we are struggling with, as regards sourcing a part”. In such cases, an enquiry would be sent and then it’s down to pricing and performance monitoring after that. But once in FSL Aerospace’s supply chain, assuming good performance, there is security, as she explains: “We are not constantly looking for the cheapest manufacturer, as we are looking at other areas like on-time delivery and right-first-time supply. Price does play a part, but it is not the only thing we are focused on. If there is a manufacturer out there that can provide an excellent service and great price, you’re winning all round. But we are not looking around, except in areas where we do have issues, such as, now, hot and cold forging.”

And with FSL’s growth ambition, backed by some recent business contracts such as the eight-year agreement with Meggitt Sensing Systems for the supply of fasteners for the new CFM LEAP engines, the purchasing manager says things are looking good for the company and, by association, its suppliers.

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Other UK-based supply chain management operations

  • Derby-headquartered, globally located Pattonair (www.pattonair.com) is a leading supplier to some 2,000 customers worldwide and draws on more than 2,500 suppliers. A major stockist, its focus is what are termed C-class parts. Such parts include low-cost and high volume commodity items, such as fasteners and bearings. These are small in size and have low cost, but are one of the most critical components used in an aircraft. Midlands Aerospace Alliance member MSP, a manufacturer of safety- and mission-critical springs and presswork, was named Pattonair supplier of the year last November (https://is.gd/ponozu).
  • In between Pattonair and FSL Aerospace, in terms of size, is Clarendon Specialty Fasteners (www.clarendonsf.com), which has locations in the UK and Italy. It serves aerospace, motorsport, defence and industrial markets. Also a stockist like Pattonair, this company boasts its own, in-house design and manufacturing service, in Totnes, Devon. Products that it has designed include: heavy duty hinges; quick-release pins; cable and wave-guide clamps; special plungers; and captive screws.

This article was published in the March 2017 aerospace supplement of Machinery magazine.