Aero Industries

Indianapolis, Indiana


Aero Industries, Inc. is one of the nation’s leading providers of innovative accessories for the transportation industry. Headquartered in Indianapolis, Aero has manufacturing facilities in Indiana, Nebraska, and Ohio.  The company’s products include a wide range of innovative tarpaulin systems and accessories for the heavy-duty trucking industry.  They distribute and service their product offerings through a network of semi-trailer manufacturers and dealers throughout North America.  

Aero is a third-generation family-owned business that was founded in Indianapolis in 1944 as Aero Canvas Products. Initially a manufacturer of tarps, the company soon expanded its product line and achieved a reputation as a leader in development of automated tarp systems and accessories for the transportation industry.  More than just a tarp company, they changed their name to Aero Industries. The company’s history as a leader in the industry spans from introducing the first aluminum stake Side Kit in the 1960s to launching the first rolling flatbed tarp system, the Conestoga, in the mid-1980s.  Today, Aero is known as the industry innovator with over 50 active US and foreign patents, and they manufacture a wide range of automatic tarp systems for flatbed, dump, and refuse trailers.

However, Aero’s greatest asset remains their people.  They are a very people-driven organization with a team that is dedicated, skilled, knowledgeable, and committed to total customer satisfaction.  Aero believes in building mutually rewarding partnerships with customers, suppliers, and Aero team members.

Situation:

Aero, like most companies, operates in an ultra-competitive environment.  While the company has been able to differentiate themselves from the competition by providing the industry’s best products, service, and people…the reality is price is always a consideration.  Often Aero’s products cost more to manufacturer due to their raw materials and product designs/features.  Due to the company’s commitment to innovation, their overhead is higher than most of their competitors, which meant Aero’s margins began to suffer.  In addition, because of their sales growth, they started to experience challenges from a capacity perspective.  Like many manufacturers in the Indianapolis area, Aero continue to struggle to find reliable, semi-skilled employees.  Faced with combined margin-pressure and lack-of-capacity, Aero turned to Purdue MEP for help to become more efficient in all aspects of business.

Solution:

Over six years ago, Aero partnered with Purdue MEP to train their Indianapolis Team on the principles of Lean and 5S.  While these classes benefited the organization, in retrospect, the company realizes they approached it as a “project” instead of making it part of their “culture.”  Today, as a direct benefit of the Lean and 5S classes, one can still see the impact of those initial classes with Purdue MEP.  However, because the company treated Lean and 5S like a project, it was not sustainable and there was not a commitment to “Continual Improvement.”  However, Aero had seen enough from Purdue MEP to know they were the right partner for the job. 

This time the company set out to do things differently.  Beyond the training, Aero formed a partnership with Purdue MEP to ensure change in Aero’s company-wide culture to include Lean, 5S, and Continuous Improvement.  Today, it is difficult to tell where Purdue MEP ends and Aero Industries starts.  This is because Art Thomas (the Purdue MEP partner) spends a day every-other-week working side-by-side with the Indianapolis Aero Team.  Beyond training in Lean, Value Stream Mapping, and Leadership, Art is a key member of a cross-functional Continuous Improvement Team that is making great strides and impact by reducing waste, increasing capacity, and eliminating stress and chaos.

A key to this partnership is teamwork and compatibility between Aero and Purdue MEP.  Specifically, Aero’s Account Manager Dietra Rosenkoetter has taken the time to get to know the organization.  She has a great understanding of both the company’s strengths and opportunities.  More importantly, she has a great feel for Aero’s people and culture.  Because of this, Dietra knew Art Thomas would be a great match for the organization.  Beyond his obvious years of experience, knowledge, and expertise, Art immediately formed a connection with the Aero team.  He quickly got to know the team members, learned the jargon, and most importantly, built a partnership based on trust and mutual respect.  The end result is a very fluid and on-going partnership.  And one that continues to bring great value to Aero and their team members.

Results:

As a result of their work with Purdue MEP, Aero retained $2.0M in sales.  More significantly, Aero has increased new sales by $2.8M.  In addition, the company has recognized $300,000 in cost savings.

“Aero Industries continues to be blessed with significant growth in a very competitive industry.  While the foundation to our success remains great people and great products, the stark reality is we need to continue to become more efficient to successfully compete in today’s world.  The challenge for companies like Aero, is how do you meet you daily business challenges and at the same time create a culture of continuous improvement?  For us, the answer was simple…Purdue MEP.  The partnership with Purdue MEP has allowed us to continue to focus on our day-to-day operations; yet under the direction and guidance of Purdue MEP, work as a team to reduce waste, increase capacity, and eliminate stress within the organization.  While this is a journey without a destination, the results and progress to date have been impactful.” 

- Dave Boyd, President & COO, Aero Industries, Inc

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