Innovation Is Everything

This essay was published in the Hartford Courant on Dec. 7.

When examining the history of innovation in Connecticut, it should surprise no one that our state is once again leading the way in changing how the world makes things – especially things that fly.

In the tradition of Eli Whitney, Sam Colt and Fred Rentschler, in a state billing itself as "Still Revolutionary," the products and manufacturing processes that Pratt & Whitney is designing and implementing today will define the company – and our industry – for decades to come. It's no overstatement to say that the change we're seeing in our company and industry is revolutionary.

Innovation at Pratt & Whitney today is occurring rapidly and simultaneously on three fronts: the new jet engine products being introduced to both commercial and military markets; the new manufacturing technologies and capabilities being implemented into the production process; and finally enhanced collaboration and insight into our supplier network that creates a more transparent, efficient and seamless value stream at every step.

Innovation not only plays a critical role in producing better products, but enables us to achieve higher standards more cost-effectively. This holistic approach of infusing innovation into the manufacturing environment is being pioneered and refined right here in Connecticut.

Not long ago Pratt & Whitney produced much of an engine's content internally with a small proportion produced by suppliers. Today, in order to maximize investment in innovative technologies, our suppliers produce many of these components. This is a fundamentally different approach to manufacturing than what has been done over the last 90 years. But adopting a fundamentally different approach is what helped create the company right from the very beginning.

Pratt & Whitney founder Fred Rentschler departed from conventional thinking when he decided to pursue an air-cooled design for his aircraft engine. The resulting "Wasps" and "Hornets," the first of the Dependable Engines in the company's motto, would power 160 different types of aircraft, help make airline service practical and give the United States military leadership.

Fast-forward 70 years, when the company questions the conventional thinking of how to radically improve the fuel efficiency of a jet engine. The resulting PurePower® series of engines delivers double-digit fuel savings and emission reductions with less than half the noise levels of today's engines. All this accomplished by inserting a component never used on a jet engine in this way previously, a gear.

The result? Over nearly 20 years Pratt & Whitney invested $10 billion to perfect the gear and develop the Geared Turbofan™ family of engines. Much of the research and development was done right here in Connecticut. The reward? More than 6,000 engines orders received prior to entry into airline service in 2015.

For years, conventional thinking was jet engines were built vertically, from the bottom up. We challenged that thinking and now have re-tooled our engine assembly facilities including the one in Middletown, Connecticut to produce large commercial PurePower engines on a moving horizontal assembly line. It will allow our assembly technicians to work at the most efficient and comfortable position while significantly decreasing the time to assemble an engine. It's different and it's better.

This constant re-thinking must be applied to all that we do. Not only applied to engine design and assembly but to our approach and relationships with the supplier chain.

As Pratt & Whitney becomes more reliant on the supply chain to meet increasing production schedules, conventional thinking may say internal control is sacrificed for the economic efficiencies of the network. Once again, innovation confounds convention. We are applying real time data analytics that track part and component production within the supply chain. The sophisticated analysis of data is done within our Operations Command Center located right here in Connecticut. With this center and we will have insight into our supply chain like never before as we begin to ramp up production.

Does Connecticut's history of innovation rise from hard work, a never say die persistence and Yankee ingenuity, or from the ever growing demand of competing on the world market? I suggest it is all of these and more. I also suggest it lives on today at a company that was started here in this state and in Hartford, in 1925.

Joe Sylvestro is vice president of Manufacturing Operations at Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford.

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