Ken-tron AS9100 Case Study

Founded in 1960, Ken-tron Manufacturing, Inc. is a metal stampings and drawn wire company located in Owensboro, Kentucky.  In 1995 the company received ISO 9001 certification, and achieved AS9100 certification in 2005 to meet the international quality standards of their aerospace customers. Ken-tron provides products to a wide variety of industries, from music to battery, electronics to automotive, and to emerging fields like energy and environmental. SimpleQuE consultant, and aerospace expert, Larry Vance, began working with Ken-tron in 2012.  Since Larry’s retirement, Ken-tron has worked with various SimpleQuE consultants and auditors who were matched due to their industry experience and auditing expertise. Jim Lee recently met with Howard Burton, AS9100 Management Representative, to review how Ken-tron’s quality systems have evolved over the years, the challenges they faced and the solutions. 


“We were doing our own audits and we were doing a terrible job,” said Howard.  “We were so hesitant to write anything up. You had that confliction and knew if you wrote anything up that you’d have to fix it.  You went around the building short-arming everything you did.  I knew it was a problem, I could see it in our external audits. We had external audits finding 5, or 8, or 12 things each audit and they were just killing us.  The CB (Certification Body) auditor said you’re not talking about any of this in your internal audits. I can’t understand how you don’t see this.  So, I knew we had to outsource our internal audits.  We looked for an internal auditor and we found a consultant/internal auditor.  But he didn’t really know a lot more than we did about it (AS9100). He was writing stuff up just to be writing stuff up. It was like you were buying your audits by the pound. He thought he had to write stuff up just to make it look like he was doing something.  After giving him some time, despite management’s ongoing desire to change to another internal auditor, we decided to find another consultant.  We were introduced to simpleQuE and decided to give them a try. “ 


Howard reflected on that initial meeting, “After the first audit with simpleQuE, I went to the management team and said this is totally different, this is a complete 180, we’re going to be perfect now.  You could just tell.  We knew you had a better approach to it.  You had that kind of service type attitude that you were trying to help us and weren’t here to just cash a check.  And we could tell.”

When asked about the value and solutions that outside auditors bring to the table, Howard said: “Like with an external auditor, everybody looks at something differently.  We had an auditor for a long time that worked in the heat-treating business before being an auditor.  And they were laser focused on anything we did or participated in that seemed to be in that world.  So every time you get a different person, you get a different perspective and you learn something new from everybody.  Like Jen, she has a super eagle eye for details.  She sees the detail for every form and operation.  Loretta has a really good process mind – she could just walk up on something and look at it for a minute, and she could just see the steps and what you were trying to accomplish.  She could see the wasted steps.  She helped us a lot – we started making music wire that gets tin plated and she gave us a lot of good suggestions.  Larry was like an uncle who said, “man we can do this.”  He was good with people out on the floor. With Jim – he had a kind approach and people felt comfortable talking to him because he put them at ease.  You get a different benefit from everybody, not only on the standard, but with the way you interact with the people in the company.”


Through several internal audits, scrap rates were escalating up to 15% on one of the major product lines. Howard reinforces, “That’s the benefit to me to having someone come in from outside with not just different knowledge but a different view.  The example of “You can’t see the forest through the trees” is so true.  We were so deep in the woods and couldn’t get the sense of why it was so bad. But your consultant asked the right probing questions and challenged how we were controlling and calibrating our production equipment.  We don’t even talk about it anymore because it saved so much money in scrap.”

Howard remembered when simpleQuE assisted Ken-Tron in upgrading to AS9100D, “The consultant provided a depth of knowledge and exposure to the standard to guide us through implementation, that I could never have done. We could read a paragraph in the standard and understand the words and what it’s saying, but your team’s ability to tell me what that looks like in action or how you would put it into practice – that insight saved us countless hours in lieu of reinventing the wheel or making mistakes that people have already made.” He added, “When there was the transition to AS9100D, I took the simpleQuE training and that was super helpful by putting the changes in layman’s terms.” 

When Pratt & Whitney wanted Ken-Tron to take on large scale production of an aerospace engine brush seal assembly instead of just providing the wire, Howard knew they could sink themselves with a key customer if they didn’t do it right. “SimpleQuE provided another set of eyes with a different skillset and expertise that helped with asking additional questions to make sure you didn’t stub your toes.  You didn’t try to take us in another direction, but you were there to say, Yup, that’s going to be ok, they’re going to be ok with that – bringing in an outside party point of view.  You reassured us that we were on the right track and validated what we were already trying to do. And you helped us with a process FMEA and control plan (AS9145) to identify and manage risks using advanced product quality planning tools. You even went with us to the customer when evaluating their current production process and their use of the product. In the 2 ½ years that we’ve been doing the project, there’s never been a problem.” adds Howard.

The relationship with Ken-Tron has grown due to their trust and reliance that SimpleQuE was staying on top of the industry requirements and changes. At the beginning of our discussion Jim asked Howard if he’s aware of the AS13100 for Aerospace Engine Supplier Quality (AESQ) requirements since they are a direct aerospace engine component supplier to Pratt & Whitney?  Howard’s response was, “No. That’s my love for simpleQuE, is because I know I don’t know. And I know and have faith that simpleQuE knows. Nothing keeps me up at night because I know that if something comes up, I trust and know that you will call me.  That’s amongst the many things that allows me to go to sleep at night, because I know that Jim Lee and the simpleQuE team are on my side.”  

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