British engineering companies are being urged to bid for a share of the SFr2.5bn (£1bn) of contracts to be put out for tender by Geneva-based Cern, the European organisation for nuclear research, for building a large hadron collider by 2005.
The UK wins, on average, 7% of contracts, by value, at Cern, and traditionally does well in computing, electronics, particle detectors and vacuum technology.
However, British electrical engineering companies have in the past been slow in coming forward.
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) has appointed Ian Stagg to act as Cern/industry coordinator, to identify, encourage and help firms tender for work.
Stagg said many British companies were more reluctant to invest in the development needed for non-catalogue items than those of other countries. Some firms, said Stagg, may take a long-term approach and not load the development costs on their tender, making them very competitive on price.
Stagg insists UK firms have the technology and sufficient competence but just have not wanted to commit resources.
A call for tenders for contracts valued at SFr200,000 is to be issued this month, including work on four cryogenic helium refrigerators, telecom services, cooling towers, stainless steel end covers and even secretarial support.
Future contracts will include the magnet and vacuum systems for the accelerator, containing many high precision mechanical components, sensors and instrumentation, and construction of numerous buildings, electricity substations, computing and other conventional items.
Although Cern has its own mailing list of potential suppliers, it relies on other countries to put people forward.
Over the past 18 months UK firms have won more than £30m worth of business from Cern, including contracts for the supply of high technology equipment by EEV and Oxford Instruments, and technical support on the accelerators by Serco.