Small Firms’ Big Helper

Alson Manufacturing, a small Gardena aerospace firm, has shipped more than 1,300 aircraft “skins” in the past year without a single quality defect. As a result, the firm now ships those skins without having a quality inspection by the customer.

The customer is Northrop, whose “quality key” program for small businesses has helped Alson and thousands of its suppliers to improve productivity and quality.

The program, in turn, earned Northrop, the Los Angeles aerospace firm that says it builds better weapons, the Small Business Development Award for 1985. The award, granted by the Small Business Administration, goes to only one major U.S. corporation for helping small and minority-owned businesses.

Northrop awarded $305 million in subcontracts to small businesses in fiscal 1984. That represented about 35% of all of the firm’s subcontracting.


The company has built up its small business program by maintaining advocacy offices for small business at each of its major facilities. Last year, more than 100 small suppliers attended a Northrop manufacturing technology open house that reviewed production processes such as machining, aluminum fabrication, robotics and radiographic inspection.

Northrop says it has received small business program awards from black, Asian and Latino business associations. The firm also has received two Air Force national awards for its work with small business.