If a supplier passes that test, the company will receive requests for proposals for in-house work. But it’s not enough to just get on the list; Northrop will also evaluate the supplier’s performance. Companies are rewarded for strong work; four consecutive quarters of performing well from a quality and delivery perspective results in placement in the platinum program, which leads to broader access for job opportunities.
But companies can also fall off the list if they receive failing marks for only two consecutive quarters. Kohl points to such items such as late deliveries, quality issues, and an inability to deliver to plan as the biggest reasons for expulsion. “Those signs indicate a deeper problem in the process,” she says. “We realize everyone can have schedule issues, and they do from time to time, but quality issues in particular can’t be tolerated.”
Of the 1,500 active member supply chain Northrop employs, only 42 companies, or less than three percent are composite companies. A large part of this is because Northrop places a stronger emphasis on sensors and other non-material elements.
Any wider usage of composites would depend on Northrop’s product needs. “It always comes down to what we’re building that requires composite structures. We’re not going to capitalize for any additional composite structures, so it depends on new business,” says Kohl. “That’s what causes anything to grow. If we’re developing a larger plane that’s an all-composite structure, we’d look for a new contract.”
The company currently utilizes composites for their F-35 plane, but the company only envisions building one model per day. Kohl says if that capacity increases, then so do the opportunities for more composite companies to join the supply chain.
Despite the small representation of composites, the company is making efforts to stay on top of the latest technological developments. “We did a survey a year or two ago, and looked at composites firms to get an assessment as to what was out there. One of the interesting things is the technology curve, which is moving pretty rapidly. It becomes mature very quickly and then it becomes a commodity,” says Kohl. “Time will tell if composites will play a larger part in that maturation.”