Minimising environmental impacts of products is increasingly important to us, our customers and regulators. Many of our products are built to be in active service for decades, so we work continuously with our customers and suppliers to ensure that the innovative technology that we jointly develop continues to reduce our customers’ environmental impacts for many years to come.
Growing demand for lower-impact products is also fuelled by concerns about rising energy costs and energy security. We support government strategies on sustainable procurement and work to enhance the environmental credentials of our products to support customer requirements.
The aim of our product stewardship approach is to:
- Observe the requirements of external regulations and our Code of Conduct when designing, manufacturing and selling our products;
- Maintain and enhance the integrity of our products, through-life, in particular around their safety, quality, conformance and environmental footprint; and
- Consistently invest in research and innovation around our products and associated services.
Product lifecycles can last from a few months to 50 years and our lifecycle management (LCM) framework guides us to consider all elements of the product from concept through to design and disposal. The LCM framework is broader in scope than a traditional environmental ‘lifecycle assessment’, and is focused upon programme, procurement and commercial risk management as well as technical, safety, quality and environmental risk management.
Product lifecycle assessments are embedded within our engineering lifecycle, from concept, through to disposal.
The concept phase covers all aspects of the product design and how we might deliver on the customer’s requirements. This is a process where we consider all elements of the project against our own policies and procedures including:
- Meeting the expectations of our customers to deliver better, faster and more cost effective solutions to the challenges demanded by an ever more complex world;
- Assessing reputational risk;
- A review of safety and environmental risk and legislation including environmental footprint, resource and energy efficiency and minimising use of hazardous materials;
- Reviewing existing Company product solutions;
- Assessing new and emerging technologies;
- Discussing product trade-offs – increased fuel use for increased speed for example;
- Scoping the level of resources needed, including people, facilities, manufacturing capability and technology; and
- Identifying procurement strategy and supply chain.
Once the concept is agreed we continue to the design and manufacture stage.
Maintain and enhance products
During the long lifetime of our products, they are often upgraded to maintain their effectiveness and resilience to operate using the latest materials, systems and technology.
While in use, we take the opportunity to address any changes to legislation that mean that materials or processes that were once acceptable can no longer be used, or address materials that have now been categorised as scarce.
Increasingly, we look at improving or sustaining the life of the product by using digital modelling and synthetic or virtual environments. For example, by using virtual reality, we can simulate the experience of walking through a ship to better understand where adaptations can be made.
These techniques allow us to reduce costs and timescales for our customers as well as ensuring we have an efficient through-life design process that increases quality and reduces waste.
A number of our products have significant safety requirements. Early in the product development lifecycle, safety risk assessments are conducted to identify safety issues and to assess whether those risks can be satisfactorily mitigated to meet design, user and legal requirements. Safety risks are assessed and tracked throughout the development lifecycle and are subject to independent peer review via mandated design review processes.
Our Product Safety Policy sets out our approach in this area. This policy applies to product safety through the lifecycle and across the supply chain, focusing on four key principles: Accountability; Level of Safety; Conforming Product; and Learning, and Sharing of Information.
Our Product Safety Management Systems reduce the risk of unintentional harm to people, property and the environment, beyond the terms of our contractual support for products in use. We continually work to improve safety standards, by raising awareness of our employees’ roles in identifying, managing and reducing safety risks.
Investing in technology and research and development (R&D)
Technology and innovation underpin our strategy and the development of our products and services across Air, Maritime, Land and Cyber. By working across these domains, we can ensure that improvements in one area can be repurposed for others. For example, our patented waveguide technology – developed initially for the LiteHUD® head-up display to provide information to pilots – has now been miniaturised to fit in Augmented Reality glasses and trialled with the Royal Navy on a ship’s bridge. We are also developing applications for use in civil aviation, which have the potential to provide significant improvements to operational performance and safety.
Our structured approach defines then capabilities and technologies we need to deliver our business and product strategy, which ensures a clear focus for our research and development spend. At the outset, we plan for multiple uses of our technology, maximising its value both financially and in capability delivered to our customers.
In 2019, we spent £1.5bn (2018 £1.5bn) on R&D, of which £237m (2018 £222m) was funded by BAE Systems. In addition, the Group’s share of the R&D expenditure of its equity accounted investments in 2019 was £0.3bn (2018 £0.2bn).
We protect our investments in technologies and have a portfolio of patents and patent applications covering approximately 2,500 inventions worldwide. Combined with a clear strategy for managing our Intellectual Property, we seek to create additional value through licences and sales of rights to other organisations.
We partner with our customers, other companies and academia to develop new technologies, as well as investing in technologies or assets that complement our existing capabilities or our future product strategy. We often work with small- and medium-sized enterprises to develop embryonic technology that is then matured for use in our own products and services.
In the UK we work directly with our five Strategic University Partners on new technologies and currently sponsor over 90 PhD students under the Industrial Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering programme, which allows postgraduate research students to receive high-quality research training in collaboration with a commercial partner. One example is the University of Southampton’s research – in partnership with the University of Nottingham and Lloyds Register – into new materials that make less noise underwater, intended to reduce the impact of shipping on marine life.
In our Electronic Systems sector in the US, we innovate science, technology and engineering breakthroughs to solve challenges spanning the areas of advanced electronics, autonomy, cyber, electronic warfare and sensors and processing for applications on programmes across the defence, aerospace and security domains. In particular, our FAST Labs™ R&D teams leverage internal resources and funding from US Department of Defense research organisations to accelerate the velocity of our innovation – moving faster and with a stronger sense of direction to more effectively address our customers’ requirements for the rapid development of new technologies.
We also deploy seedcorn funding to develop technology or ideas that could deliver real value, but are too new or untested to offer guaranteed results. Over the last five years we have funded more than 40 projects with more than £40m of investment. Around half the projects have moved into product lines – in line with expectations for early-stage research and development programmes – and the potential business returns run into many times that value. One such project was our autonomous P24 Rigid Inflatable Sea Boat, now generating interest from customers around the world. Announced in July 2019, this is the first boat of its kind, capable of 100 nautical miles in autonomous pursuit mode.
Technology in our business
The use of technology, innovations and advanced manufacturing techniques across our business is essential in driving greater efficiency and increased productivity. Our Chief Technology Officer’s team is dedicated to advancing and applying new technology throughout our business.