Reach for the skies

BAE Systems

A new state-of-the-art manufacturing line at BAE Systems has been expanding to meet the production demands of the world’s largest defence programme.

The defence giant completed the extension of its machining and assembly lines at its site in Samlesbury earlier this year.

The plant near Preston is where it produces the rear section of the F-35 Lightning, the next generation combat aircraft.

The expansion is the latest in more than £175m of investment which has been made to meet the ramp up in production for the F-35 programme, which will see BAE Systems peak at producing 179 aircraft sets each year by 2020.

Jon Evans, Head of F-35 Operations at BAE Systems, says: “Our biggest challenge is to quadruple the production rate whilst at the same time halving the unit cost.

“The recent investment means every product in the F-35 family is produced on a pulse, integrated assembly line.”

The assembly facility includes an Integrated Assembly Line, which operates with pulse line technology more familiar to the car industry, to automatically move parts down the line at a rate of one pulse every three days; this will increase to a pulse every day at peak production rates.

It is also fitted with a new buy-off area where representatives from Lockheed Martin, the F-35 programme’s prime contractor, inspects each aircraft set before it is shipped to its final assembly facility in Fort Worth, Texas, for final assembly.

BAE Systems has also invested in the expansion of its 5,000 square metre machining facility at Samlesbury which brings the programme’s full metal machining capability in one building.

Alongside its role in production, the company is playing a leading role in the design and development of the F-35, integrating it alongside other military assets including the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and supporting the global fleet of jets which will see more than 1,000 aircraft in service by 2020.

BAE Systems, which has two military jet operations in the North West, alongside a shipyard, has almost 9,000 companies in its supply chain right across the UK, and its operations contribute £11.1bn to the national economy.

Samlesbury, near Preston, is also home to its flagship Academy for Skills and Knowledge, which was officially opened at the end of 2016. It is a £15.6m investment in the future of the region’s aerospace and defence manufacturing capabilities.

Its role is to develop the sector’s future workforce and provide life-long learning for our employees. The academy also offers school-aged children the opportunity to discover more about careers in engineering and technology.

Principal Nigel Davies says: “We are committed to investing in our current and future workforce. In 2017, we took on over 800 graduates and apprentices across the UK and had over 2000 graduates and apprentices in training.”