January’s top 10 engineering business stories

Each month, The Engineer picks 10 of the most notable news stories from our Business Briefs archive. It seems 2012 got off to a ’defensive’ start, with the majority of our most-read briefs concerning significant military contracts. Large orders were made for aircraft, while other organisations signed agreements aimed at reducing CO2 emissions.

First, though, we turn to an article that held some good news for the UK manufacturing sector — the launch of a national programme to help small and medium manufacturing businesses grow. Business minister Mark Prisk and the Manufacturing Advisory Consortium (MAC) announced that the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) is now available to all manufacturing businesses across England.

It was estimated that the MAS will help generate £1.5bn in economic growth, create 23,000 jobs and safeguard 50,000 existing jobs. Prisk said: ‘Manufacturing contributes half of Britain’s exports and has much higher productivity than the rest of the economy, so it is essential to our plans for growth. That is why we are taking steps to ensure that our industrial base is thriving as part of a strong and balanced UK economy. The MAS will play a key role, providing tailored advice to businesses, helping them to grow and thrive, with a specific focus on helping SMEs to improve competitiveness and unlock their growth potential.’

Automotive manufacturing in the UK grew significantly last year. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) released figures stating that UK car manufacturing rose 5.8 per cent to 1.3 million in 2011 and ended the year with a 1.6 per cent rise in December. UK engine production rose by 4.9 per cent to 2.5 million in 2011, while commercial vehicle output fell by a small 1.4 per cent to 121,312.

SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt said: ‘UK vehicle and engine production continues to lead the manufacturing recovery, with increased output and exports taking a record-breaking share. In 2011, vehicle manufacturers renewed their commitment to the UK, securing new model programmes, facilities and jobs for the long term. It is essential that industry and government continue to work in partnership to maximise the opportunities at all levels of the UK supply chain and encourage more investment in R&D [research and development], skills and new plant machinery.’

Elsewhere in Europe it was ‘green’ projects putting automotive manufacturers in the spotlight. In Spain, Hitachi and Mitsubishi were jointly selected as contractors for the country’s Smart Community System Demonstration Project, by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO).

The project, which is aligned with the Malaga Smartcity Project currently under way in Malaga, Spain, will demonstrate and verify various businesses necessary for establishing a next-generation transportation infrastructure enabling considerable reductions in CO2 emissions. The total budget of the demonstration project, to be conducted for a period through March 2016, is expected to be near five-billion yen.

In Estonia, the government awarded power and automation company ABB a tender offer to build a network of 200 electric vehicle (EV) fast-charging stations throughout the country. The order is Europe’s largest EV-charging infrastructure contract to date and creates the world’s first fast-charging infrastructure with full nationwide coverage.

ABB will start deliveries in the second quarter of 2012 and plans to have all the Terra direct current chargers running by the end of this year. As part of the five-year contract, ABB will also deliver network-operating support services for the chargers in the field and the backbone IT architecture. The company won the order together with its partners G4S and NOW! Innovations, which provide first-line customer support and payment solutions respectively.

Large orders within the aerospace sector were another headline-grabbing topic in January. Low-cost carrier Volaris became the first airline in Mexico to order Airbus’s A320neo when it signed a purchase agreement for 44 Airbus A320 aircraft, 30 of these being A320neos. This was the largest single aircraft order ever by an airline in Mexico.

Norwegian, a low-cost airline based in Oslo, signed a firm order with Boeing for 100 fuel-efficient 737 MAX aircraft and 22 next-generation 737-800s. The total order was valued at $11.4bn (£7.3bn) at list prices and represented the largest-ever Boeing order from a European airline, as well as the first European firm order for the 737 MAX.

Just across the Norwegian border, Sweden was involved in a large defence contract. Defence and security company Saab signed a major support agreement with Sikorsky Aerospace Services regarding technical maintenance and support for Sweden’s Black Hawk helicopters. This framework agreement establishes the manner in which Saab and Sikorsky Aerospace Services will support the Swedish Armed Forces; and its first instalment is the provision of maintenance for UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, designated HKP-16 in Sweden.

Saab will establish a maintenance organisation supported by Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance personnel for HKP 16, comprising helicopter technicians and other technical support staff based at Malmslätt in Linköping, Sweden. The first helicopters were handed over to the helicopter wing in Malmslätt and at the beginning of next year all 15 HKP 16s will be in operational service.

Another major defence contract went to US company Lockheed Martin, which received a contract totalling $1.96bn (£1.27bn) to produce the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Weapon System for the Missile Defense Agency and the United Arab Emirates.

The contract is the first Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of the THAAD Weapon System and includes the production of two THAAD Weapon Systems, as well as additional maintenance and support equipment. THAAD interceptors are produced at Lockheed Martin’s Pike County facility in Troy, Alabama. The launchers and fire control units are produced at the company’s facility in Camden, Arkansas.

The UK division of large US defence company Raytheon was selected by General Dynamics’ UK division to supply the chassis power-switch node for the Scout variant of the Specialist Vehicle (SV) programme demonstration phase. Raytheon’s high-density power-switch node is a key component in the platform’s power management and distribution system.

The Scout reconnaissance vehicle is planned to be a key variant in the British Army’s Scout SV fleet. It will serve alongside other SV variants, including Recce Armoured Personnel, protected mobility, and repair and recovery vehicles.

We end with a defence story that, rather unusually, brings together the small Welsh island of Anglesey and the very large island of Australia. It tells how Faun Trackway, defence division of Faun-Zoeller based in Llangefni, Anglesey, secured an £800,000 order from the Australian Armed Forces.

Trackway’s UAV landing mat, which it unveiled for the first time at September’s DSEi defence exhibition in London, acts as a temporary runway for unmanned aerial vehicles. The agreement is the first-ever sale for the mat and a further Trackway agreement with the Australians who, along with more than 40 other nations worldwide, use Trackway’s range of temporary aluminium roadways and runways. The lightweight UAV landing mat is designed to provide a temporary smooth landing, regardless of terrain, for any size or weight of UAV and can be deployed rapidly by hand.