They provide the ‘brainpower’ - the systems that connect multiple systems and technologies together - across a range of applications, including ensuring rollercoaster safety standards are met through to the installation of smart canal technology to reduce flood risk.
BAE Systems began working with Fairfield Control Systems in 2018. They were introduced by The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) following developments that BAE Systems and the AMRC had been working on in collaborative technologies and intelligent workstation systems. FCS were introduced to develop a production-ready version of the intelligent workstation for the manufacture of aircraft parts.
That system was installed into Typhoon production at BAE Systems Samlesbury facility in Lancashire in 2019. Thanks to expertise from FCS, the system successfully connected technologies that would help the operator complete the job more easily and intuitively.
The workstation is designed to allow the user to adjust the height and lighting levels to suit their personal preferences. The settings are stored in the system and then recalled when the user next logs in. FCS provided the systems know-how to enable integration with BAE Systems digital work instructions and other collaborative technologies, including an optical projection system to assist the user by highlighting specific assembly steps that are being referred to within the current instructions, e.g. fastener installations. The FCS designed software ensures that the different systems in operation are compatible and connected, whilst meeting the security requirements for military standard production.
The success of this first project led to a deepening collaboration between both companies and the development of a smart gantry system – an evolution of the intelligent workstation with additional collabarative technologies integrated. Built as an overhead system, the gantry allows larger assemblies to be produced with similar methodology.
Working collaboratively with FCS’s supply chain including Chorley based Lyndhurst Precision Engineering who provide the physical frame/rig and French projection systems specialists Diota, the smart gantry system was installed in 2020.
Overhead projection systems guide the operator in real-time as it lays key manufacturing information onto the avionic trays for the Typhoon aircraft. The introduction of headset technology provides users with an augmented reality view of the task in hand and replaces the need for 2D drawings which can be more challenging to follow and less intuitive.
Oliver Mangham, Applications Director for Fairfield Control Systems describes the company as a ‘broker of information’, managing the data flow between systems, qualifying the processes and ensuring the end result is a fully integrated system. Their expertise could find application in all sorts of industries. BAE Systems brings a unique ability to meet the exacting data security and demands of a military aircraft programme. No easy task.
Oliver started out as an apprentice with FCS and is proud that over 70% of the company’s engineers started their careers as a graduate or apprentice at the company. They also boast a remarkably high apprentice retention rate of more than 80%. This, Oliver believes, is a key factor in FCS’s successful growth strategy as it breeds a culture of empowerment from the start. This successful apprenticeship and graduate scheme means the workforce’s average age is less than 35 with lots of apprentices and graduates with a natural thirst to explore new technologies.
The shift to using more and more data to drive manufacturing means that much more is achievable as a remote team. The latest gantry project was successfully delivered as a virtual collaborative project given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic and was installed within schedule.
Martin Knott, Assembly Team Lead for Airframe Technology commented on the collaboration and said:
“FCS operate in a very niche market and bring a lot of ideas that we might not have been able to achieve traditionally.
We’ve worked together on this project from the very outset which means that FCS are part of the vision and the solution from day one. Traditionally, we might have left this until the programme was reasonably mature and then you can have a lot of unpicking to do. That saves a lot of time and creates a more empowered, collaborative atmosphere for everyone.”
Neelofar Ansari, Senior Engineer in Airframe Technology for BAE Systems has been at the heart of the project and said:
“It has been great to work with FCS to develop and productionise the intelligent workstation. They have been able to deliver the project in a very short amount of time, whilst helping test the augmented projection systems and integrate into a legacy configuration controlled system. Their commitment and passion for innovation greatly added to the outcome of the project.”