Regional defence manufacturer invests in Scotland for growth

A YORKSHIRE defence manufacturer has advanced into Scotland to fuel its ambitious growth plans.

Slingsby Advanced Composites, which supplies defence giants including BAE and Rolls Royce, has opened a factory in Scotland as it forecasts playing a growing role in the UK's defence industry.

Slingsby, based in Kirbymoorside, North Yorkshire, opened the site at Prestwick Airport under a 1m investment. The expansion created 17 jobs and it hopes to grow this to 28 by the end of next year.

Managing director Steven Boyd said the expansion would help to "safeguard the future for the company".

"We took the decision to expand at Prestwick not only to tap into the potential market, but also to benefit from the excellent skills base that exists north of the border. We have not been disappointed."

Slingsby is a growing supplier of components to the aerospace, defence and power generation sectors. A management team of Mr Boyd, Stuart Brown and Dave Doran bought the business in 2006 from Cobham, the international aerospace company.

Since then business has grown its order book from about 5m to its current 15m level. It is on track to turn over about 9.25m this year, and forecasts 11m turnover in 2010.

Mr Boyd said the new 44,000 sq ft facility "mirrors Kirbymoorside's capability", where it employs 120 staff. Among the array of products Slingsby designs and makes are carbon fibre and resin structures used in submarine rudders, emergency train doors, fighter pilot helmets and warship gun shields.

Slingsby secured assistance from the Scottish Government to help to fund the expansion. The company will receive 249,000 in Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) funding and 348,312 in training assistance, combining with Slingsby's investment to form a total 1m.

Mr Boyd said the company decided to expand into Scotland rather than in Kirbymoorside to give it a foothold in Scotland and greater access to global defence companies. "The Prestwick facility is a manufacturing outlet and very much supports our Kirbymoorside headquarters," said Mr Boyd.

"I have a good knowledge of the area and what it offers. There's no competition there for us. We needed to expand to grow."

Among the companies on Slingsby's doorstep in Prestwick are BAE, Rolls Royce, GE Aviation and Spirit Aerosystems.

"They are all behind us and like what we do," said Mr Boyd. "They want us to grow and be a tier one supplier."

Among the work already underway at the new site is manufacturing spinner cones for Bombardier's Q400 turbo prop aircraft, as well as composite panels for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport plane.

Mr Boyd said while Slingsby has felt the squeeze during the recession, the expansion was key to its long-term growth plans.

"We first embarked on it two years ago," he said. "With what's happened in the economy you could question the viability but we had already set the wheels in motion.

"But we see it (the defence industry) improving. Programmes are ramping up. We see next year as having 16 per cent growth potential. With that growth we need to show our customers that we can meet the ramp-up in expectations.

"We want grow to become bigger and stronger. We could have stayed put and generated more profitability but we are looking over the horizon."

Funding from the Scottish Government was among a package of help for defence businesses in Scotland.

Lena Wilson, chief operating officer of Scottish Enterprise and chief executive of Scottish Development International, said the investment was excellent news. "The decision by GSK, Slingsby and Spirit to continue to invest here underlines Scotland's position as a first class place to do business. "Each of these companies are excellent examples of forward thinking, ambitious and innovative businesses who set their sights high and contribute significantly to the Scottish economy."

Getting airborne into the future

Slingsby plays a growing role in the development and manufacture of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs).

These pilotless planes or drones are increasingly used by military forces across the globe for reconnaissance and even combat.

The highly-mobile craft eliminate the risk to air crew and are cheaper to run than conventional aircraft.

They can be operated by a team on the ground and controlled as they are flown over long distances.

Slingsby signed a multimillion pound contract in 2007 with defence giant BAE to design and develop an airframe for a UAV.

Among the UAVs it has worked on is the Raven, where it designed and made a prototype. It also designed, tested and made a Herti prototype in seven months, and worked on the Mantis UAV, which has a 20m wingspan.

Both Herti and Mantis are currently undergoing trials and Slingsby is hopeful this will result in orders flowing through.

The company started life in the 1930s as Slingsby Sailplanes and became famous for its gliders.