The Importance Of Advanced Composites In The Aerospace And Defence...

The Importance Of Advanced Composites In The Aerospace And Defence Industry

Mark Follows, Operations Director, Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group

Mark Follows, Operations Director, Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group

Advanced composite materials and processes are crucial to support the aerospace and defence industry and, as improvements in new technologies and products emerge, this presents new opportunities and challenges. This means that manufacturers have to innovate and adapt more than ever before. Customers demand cost-effective solutions within a highly competitive environment. And as product designs become increasingly complex, so does the need to find the right materials, processes, and tooling to bring these bespoke designs to life.

Safety is always the number one priority when operating in the aerospace or defence sector; however, it is only part of the story. Processes have to be agile to meet aggressive customer launch dates and real-time feedback is needed to ensure that design and “design for manufacture” is optimised. Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (MADG) Advanced Composites is ensuring that it is fit for 2021 and beyond through a programme of continuous improvement, supported by significant ongoing investment in both its people and processes. The company’s dedicated research and development teams constantly assess new materials and processing techniques, ensuring it can remain at the forefront of composite technologies and deliver its customers safe, effective, affordable, and high-performing products.

Carl Morse, general manager of MADG Advanced Composites comments, “Our investment in our people, technology, and processes has allowed us to become an extremely agile and flexible team who can change requirements from concept to the point of delivery. We restructured during 2020, embedding our manufacturing cells with multidisciplined teams including quality, engineering, and process engineering. These teams are fully empowered to make decisions dynamically, which creates a better collaborative working environment and improves customer quality and deliveries.”

“MADG has invested heavily on research and development and has dedicated R&D teams across the business to ensure it remains competitive, providing the most relevant solutions to its customers”

MADG has invested significantly in reviewing many of its key processes and value streams, achieving a ten percent improvement in productivity to date through its ‘One Marshall Continuous Improvement Programme’ (OMCI), which aligns to the approach used by the World Class Manufacturing Association. This programme has delivered significant improvements in terms of cost and on-time delivery for its customers. More impressive still, given that these improvements have been driven against the backdrop of COVID-19, with the challenges of ensuring a COVID-secure workplace. The company has taken a robust approach toward caring for its people throughout the pandemic and has recently introduced a weekly testing programme to help identify any asymptomatic cases within its workforce. Alongside manufacturing face visors for their own use, the team at MADG also produced and donated 30,000 units to critical workers in its local community.

Like so many manufacturing businesses, MADG found itself facing the challenge of mobilising as many employees as possible to work from home, making collaboration much more challenging and putting physical distance between key team members and impeded the manufacture of various products. This dictated an immediate adaptation overnight that drove the use of conferencing and real-time video linking onto the shop floor to maintain efficiency.

MADG has invested heavily on research and development and has dedicated R&D teams across the business to ensure it remains competitive, providing the most relevant solutions to its customers. The Kirkbymoorside facility has been fortunate to receive backing from Sharing in Growth (SIG), who awarded a 900 thousand pound grant over three years to support the development of their processes and people. The SIG scheme provides a concentrated and targeted approach focusing on the development of lean techniques, manufacturing operations, procurement, cost modelling, and leadership development— enabling the business to become ‘world class’

A key area of focus during 2021 is the National Aerospace and Defence Contractors Accreditation Program (NADCAP). Developing people and processes is key for Aerospace and defence providers and demonstrates robust processes with people trained to the highest standards with the added benefits of utilising technology and videography. Carl Morse continues, “We have capitalised on these investments to grow capabilities and increase offerings into the market. One example is the development of our extensive composite capability to include the design, manufacture, and certification of Radomes whilst increasing our intellectual property material database in line with market requirements and identified novel and more expedient routes to certification. Coupled together, this has enabled us to provide improved service levels to our customers across the entire life-cycle—from supporting requirement generation and using expertise to inform key design for manufacturing decisions through to design, test, manufacturing, certification, and end of life considerations.”

MADG Advanced Composites is still growing, trying to do things differently and challenging the norm. This is a fast-paced industry and the team acknowledges the need to continually reassess and improve, offering something different, whether it is increasing new capabilities for customers, new or enhanced processes to improve quality and turn-around times, or using novel approaches to reduce cost. These initiatives will continue throughout 2021, and beyond, as the business continues to meet the challenges the dynamic aerospace and defence sector has to throw at i

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