Making the Jump from Start-Up to Manufacturer
Sectors: Aerospace & Defence
Stephen Kyle-Henney, founder and managing director of TISICS Titanium Composites, faces not one but two challenges as the commercial aerospace sector flies back to pre-pandemic levels of activity.
First is the ramp-up itself, with demand from Airbus and Boeing feeding through the supply chain to small and medium-sized enterprises, many of which, like Farnborough-based
TISICS, were forced into semi-hibernation during lockdown.
But TISICS also faces making that tricky transition from research and development start-up to fully-fledged manufacturer as the proprietary lightweight ceramic fibre parts it has been working on for more than a decade near approval from the aviation authorities.
TISICS is seeking investment, and a location, for a factory to manufacture the innovative products to an industrial standard, but initially at low volumes. Once the parts and the process are qualified, “the model can be scaled by 10-times”, says Stephen.
That facility is unlikely to be in Farnborough, he adds. While the Hampshire town has a long aviation heritage, land is scarce and labour costs are higher than in industrial heartlands such as the Midlands and South Wales.
The firm’s turnover of around £1m comes largely from one-off engineering sub-contracts, but “every penny goes back into technology development”, says Stephen, who led a management buy-out of TISICS – and the rights to the composite technology – from defence firm Qinetiq in the mid-2000s.
The business has also benefited from a £2.5m R&D grant from the government’s Sustainable Innovation Fund, launched in June 2020 to help companies recovering from the impact of Covid to develop green technologies.
TISICS used that funding to complete the design of a titanium composite side stay for the Airbus A330’s Safran-produced landing gear. The part is 50% lighter than the steel part it replaces, and
“if applied to the whole landing gear would save thousands of tonnes of CO2,” Stephen explains.
The money will also go towards destructive-testing of the component in May – a key step in convincing the authorities and customer of its performance characteristics. Following that, another part will be fitted to an aircraft for ground-fit trials.
“We are an advanced materials developer so we’re not yet in the supply chain at a product level,” says Stephen. “Getting to where we want to be is a long process. Anything we make is a safety-critical part, so it’s not an overnight job.”
However, he is grateful for the UK government’s support – both the furlough scheme that allowed TISICS to retain staff when cash was tight and the Green Recovery Challenge Fund that provided resources to power up again.
“It means we have come through the pandemic stronger than we went into it,” he concludes.
“We are now almost at the end of our development programme and ready to become fully integrated into the supply chain.”