The Importance of Advanced Composites in the Aerospace Industry

The Importance of Advanced Composites in the Aerospace Industry

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 that mean manufacturers are having 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, but 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 design and “design for manufacture” is optimised.

Operating out of Kirkbymoorside in North Yorkshire, Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (MADG) Advanced Composites are ensuring we’re fit for 2021 and beyond through a programme of continuous improvement and supported by significant ongoing investment in both our people and processes.

Our dedicated Research and Development teams constantly assess new materials and processing techniques, ensuring we can remain at the forefront of Composite technologies and deliver our customers safe, effective, cost effective 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 multi-disciplined 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.”

We have invested significantly in reviewing many of our key processes and value streams, achieving a 10% improvement in productivity to date through the ‘One Marshall Continuous improvement Programme’ (OM-CI), which aligns to the approach used by the World Class Manufacturing Association. This programme has delivered significant improvements on cost and on time delivery to customers.

More impressive still, given these improvements have been driven against the backdrop of Covid-19 with the challenges of ensuring a Covid-Secure workplace. We’ve ensured a robust approach to taking care of our people throughout the pandemic and have recently introduced a weekly testing programme to help identify any asymptomatic cases within our workforce.

As well as manufacturing face visors for its own use, the team have also produced a further 30,000 which were donated to critical workers in the local community.

Like so many manufacturing businesses, we found ourselves faced with the challenge of mobilising as many as possible of our employees to work from home, making collaboration much more challenging and putting physical distance between key team members and the manufacture of products.

This dictated an immediate adaptation that overnight drove the use of conferencing and real-time video linking onto the shop floor to maintain efficiency.

The decision was taken to invest heavily on Research and Development and have dedicated R&D teams across the business to ensure we remain competitive and are able to provide the most relevant solutions to customers.

The facility in Kirkbymoorside has been fortunate to receive backing from Sharing in Growth (SIG), who awarded a £900k grant over three years to support the development of our 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 are 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 continued:

“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, 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 acknowledge the need to continually reassess and improve, offering something different, whether its increasing new capabilities to 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 it.

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