• Philip Pozzo di Borgo-Oliver

Innovation — the SME super-power of Welsh Aerospace?

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

Why the Welsh Aerospace & Defence industry wants more innovation from its SME supply chain.

Did you know that the Welsh aerospace and defence sector includes 7 of the world's top 10 aerospace and defence companies? It's a sector that directly employs over 23,000 people across more than 160 businesses.


These headline statistics were the backdrop to a fascinating series of presentations, meetings and conversations that my colleagues and I recently had. We were delighted to be a part of Aerospace Wales Expo 2021, hosted by Coleg Cambria in Flintshire.


Our company stand was one of about 90 exhibitors among 300 delegates, and the only one dedicated to helping organisations learn how to innovate.


With our 'innovation' ears wide open, we were intrigued by what we learned at this dynamic event...


Big aerospace players are looking to SMEs to build their future


With her plenary speech, Airbus UK's Helen Swift signalled that her organisation was gearing up for growth. They anticipate a 75% increase in client-led demand off an existing £3.9 billion turnover for 2020. How will they achieve this? With a little help from their friends: Airbus will be leveraging the capability of some 2,374 UK-based suppliers, about 50% of which are SMEs.


Swift summarised her organisation's forward-looking expectations on suppliers, like this: "Innovation from the supply chain will be key for Airbus to achieve its objectives on sustainability, competitiveness and industrial performance..."

It quickly became the theme of the morning, as Andy Burn of BAE Systems, explained that in addition to their ongoing focus on continuous improvement, BAE wants to develop new products and new manufacturing processes with the help of an agile UK supply chain. Burn said innovation would be crucial to delivering competitive advantage for their customers, reducing lead times, and offering high quality solutions.


Then, in his address, Prof. Ed Rochead from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) spoke about the enormous challenge of modernising the UK's defence capability. He outlined how £1 billion of funding over the next four years would be used to leverage technology and innovation in order to level-up UK defence.


Smaller businesses may be more innovative...


Interestingly, Prof. Rochead acknowledged that "typically 'smaller' businesses are able to bring innovation with them". Almost 30% of DSTL's spend — some £223 million each year — goes to SMEs in their supply chain.


Thales' Rob Hodges closed the plenary with similar observations and some practical examples of how their organisation would use the new Digital Trust and Resilience Centre (DTRC) in Wales to build future skills and provide a route for industry and academia to test innovative approaches.


It's time for aerospace SMEs to invest in their innovation capabilities


For us, the take-away from Aerospace Wales Expo 2021 was very simple: major players in Wales' aerospace and defence ecosystem need to grow their SME supply chain, and they are looking to SMEs to bring fresh, big and bold ideas for the future.


They want a pipeline of innovation from their smaller and medium-sized partners, and they want it very soon.

Where can organisations learn to innovate?


If your organisation — big or small — wants to explore how to innovate using a proven, total system called Innovation Engineering, the Welsh Government will fund your training up to 50%, subject to eligibility criteria.


Find out more from Rachael Blackburn about the first Aerospace Wales Forum innovation training programme starting on 21 January 2022, or contact Philip Pozzo di Borgo-Oliver at Eureka!Europe 👇🏻



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