Helicopter Transmission Manufacturer Uses Software To Manage Business

Founded in 1956, Sterling Machine is a precision manufacturer of helicopter transmissions, landing gear and structural parts.

Case Study From: 6/15/2003 Modern Machine Shop

Advanced technology will enable the U.S. military’s first “stealth” helicopter to evade detection while offering vision capabilities in darkness or adverse weather conditions. The RAH-66 Comanche helicopter being developed by a Boeing Sikorsky team will also include components made by Sterling Machine Company (Enfield, Connecticut).

Founded in 1956, Sterling Machine is a precision manufacturer of helicopter transmissions, landing gear and structural parts. Since 1995, the company has depended on Vista manufacturing software from Epicor Software Corporation (Irvine, California) to manage all aspects of its business. The company recently upgraded to Vista 6.0.

Even in today’s competitive business environment, Tim Caravella, office manager for Sterling Machine, says the company has set sales records the past 3 years and revenues have increased by 50 percent during that time.

During the early 1990s, however, Sterling’s business wasn’t going as well. “Our customers were consolidating their lists of vendors,” remembers Mr. Caravella. “Streamlining and downsizing were common terms.” He says that Sterling had to either respond quickly and positively, or close its doors. “That’s where Vista came in,” Mr. Caravella says. “After exploring several options at trade shows, it was obvious that Vista was the software solution to take us into the next century.”

Before starting with Vista, Sterling completely redesigned its shop layout to simplify workflow, resolve traffic jams and boost productivity. After that, a new computer system was implemented, complete with new workstations, server and Vista software.

“We noticed immediately that Vista gave us incredible control of all our shop floor functions and tied them all directly into the books,” recalls Mr. Caravella. “Shopfloor data collection enables us to give our customers immediate, real-time answers to their inquiries, which was impossible with our old manual system.”

The new Vista system also helped Sterling earn ISO 9002 quality certification in early 1998. That achievement was the culmination of a dedicated effort from employees along with investments in new technologies and programs. Currently, Sterling is upgrading to the latest ISO standard.

Customers also noticed the improvements. In 1997, Sterling was the first and only vendor to receive “World Class” status from Sikorsky Aircraft, followed by a “Supplier of the Year” award from Sikorsksy in 2000. These ratings were based upon guidelines set forth in engineering, technical, inspection and environmental issues.

“We never could have received the awards and certifications without Vista,” observes Mr. Caravella. “Vista showed us where our weaknesses were and helped us excel in those areas.”

Mr. Caravella adds that Epicor training and user conferences have also been valuable. He believes the recent enhancements in Vista 6.0 are the latest example of Epicor’s dedication to keep Sterling one-step ahead of its competition.

“We are becoming more involved in higher-level assemblies and larger, more complex products,” explains Mr. Caravella, who says Vista’s new Advanced Bill of Materials (BOM) module enables easy tracking of detailed, multi-level jobs involving many different sub-assemblies.

Customer demands, particularly among Sterling’s core military-aircraft customers, are also driving the demand for serialization and precise part-number tracking, which is possible with the Advanced Inventory Management module. Mr. Caravella says Sterling also likes the new Quality Assurance module, which will enable the company to integrate its five separate ISO-related databases into one centralized solution.

Since implementing Vista in 1995, Mr. Caravella says the ability to track efficiencies has been “huge” for Sterling. “Our productivity increased dramatically, just from posting efficiency reports for all employees,” he notes. “Employees can see how they’re doing, and the spirit of competition has spurred significant improvements.”

With Vista 6.0, Mr. Caravella says he appreciates the flexibility to choose either the Microsoft SQL Server or Progress RDBMS database. Sterling is currently using Progress, and Mr. Caravella says he has been impressed with the performance of the system. “Searches are fast and printing speed is an improvement,” he explains. “Progress provides a stable, low-maintenance system—it virtually takes care of itself, which gives us peace of mind.”

The new Vista Dashboard interface is said to provide a one-stop, quick overview of key system indicators and functions, customized to help “drive” the users’ daily activities. “With the Dashboard, we can easily monitor plant activities and set up queries,” explains Mr. Caravella. “Because the Dashboard refreshes automatically, we’re always kept up to date.”

Mr. Caravella continues, “Our engineer loves the Engineering Workbench, which enables him to easily create, manage and track all his parts.” For ISO documentation and other tracking purposes, the Change Log throughout Vista 6.0 leaves “footprints” everywhere, creating a full audit trail of all system or job changes.

Mr. Caravella expects Vista to play a crucial role in the company’s future, and he praises Vista 6.0 as “a fully integrated package, from the production floor all the way through financials.” In today’s competitive economy, Vista will continue to help Sterling Machine manage all aspects of its business.

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