BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold interviews Alistair McPhee, Chief Executive of Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group since 2017.
“I see that our paths have crossed in the past when we both worked for Barr & Stroud? I was the PR consultant for Pilkington in 1990 and handled the corporate name change to Pilkington Optronics, which, given the longevity of Barr & Stroud and its local history, was an uphill struggle!” The Editor said.
“Yes indeed, I cut my teeth as an electronics engineer at Barr & Stroud and am proud that I contributed not only to the Challenger 2 TOGS EO/IR sighting system but also the non-hull penetrating optronics mast for UK and overseas submarines. I have had 20 years’ experience in the defence sector, including a 5 year period with BAE SYSTEMS Marine and 15 years with Thales Optronics. In addition to many years working with the MoD, and civil UK regulated customers, I have also worked extensively with overseas customers, particularly in the US, Europe, Australasia and the Far East. Prior to joining Marshall ADG I led Thales UK’s Ground Transportation business, where I was very proud to be part of team that helped secure a one billion pound contract from Transport for London to upgrade the train control infrastructure for the Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith and City Lines.” Alistair McPhee said.
“Were you head hunted to work at Marshall ADG?” The Editor asked.
“No, Marshall ADG was looking for a new CEO and as Alex Dorrian is Chairman of Marshall and Kathy Jenkins is HR Director, both ex-Thales, I came with recommendations from both of them.” Alistair McPhee said.
“As we discussed I have known and worked with Marshall in various guises over the years and found that the professionalism and engineering capability is second to none. In addition, there is an air of family loyalty and approachability, rather than plain corporate regard in the attitude of directors, managers and workers alike. My first visit to Marshall was to see John Arnold to discuss the SMC Sandringham 6×6 Land Rover in 1980. This was very much the atmosphere when I was honoured to be invited to the Marshall Centenary Party in 2009.” The Editor said.
“Yes, as I was settling into my job, I noticed the pleasure that all the staff took in working for a 110-year old company; one of the largest privately-owned companies in the UK. The engineering capability, innovation and standard of work is second to none. We are a family version of the plcs I worked for in the past. Our one problem is that we don’t shout about it enough!” Alistair McPhee said.
(Photo: Sir Michael Marshall receives 2016 Queen’s Award For Industry)
“Yes, I have noticed that too, particularly with regard to your capability in Land Systems, which has always appeared to be the poor relation to the aerospace business.” The Editor commented.
Marshall’s aerospace business supports a number of C-130 fleets operated by 18 nations, including the UK, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Bangladesh and Bahrain. Marshall ADG recently completed two specialist ISR aircraft for the UAE based on a Bombardier Global airframe.
Marshall ADG is a large UK private aerospace and engineering company based in Cambridge. However, if you look beyond Cambridge you will find that the company is a global aerospace and engineering business with companies and affiliates in the UK, Europe, North America and the UAE. In the UK, it operates Marshall Advanced Composites (formerly Slingsby Advanced Composites) a composite manufacturing business in Kirkbymoorside, Yorkshire, and a facility at RAF Brize Norton. Overseas, Marshall ADG has companies and affiliates in the UAE, Canada and the Netherlands.
“I have to agree with you, coming from a land environment! Having said that, we doubled revenue at Land Systems last year and had been expecting to treble it this year, had it not been for the Coronavirus outbreak.” Alistair McPhee said.
“Where is the main source of this growth?”
“Our deployable container business, in particular, is growing exponentially. Prior to winning our biggest ever Land Systems order in 2018, the Dutch (DVOW) business for 1600 container systems, our previous largest deal was for just 44. We are also growing our vehicle integration business. Our capability, developed over many years for the integration of ambulance equipment, is of particular interest to the MoD and the NHS to ramp up the supply of ambulances in the current crisis.”
The multi-million pound contract from the Dutch Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) to supply the next generation of deployable military structures. The acquisition of the container systems is part of Dutch Defensiebrede Vervanging Operationele Wielvoertuigen, or DVOW, which is a major programme to update the Dutch Armed Forces with new vehicles, containers and support equipment.
The contract is for nearly 1,600 Matrix expandable container systems in various configurations provided over the next five years. These include command and control shelters, workshops, controlled atmosphere and basic stores units, together with a 14-year fully integrated availability support package. The system is designed around a new expandable container, which uses lighter materials but maintains the strength of its in-service products.
“Winning the DVOW contract was a major milestone in the strategic development of our Land Systems business and emphasises our capability to manage major programmes, which benefits not only us but also supports local suppliers. During both the implementation and support phases of this contract we will be working closely with Dutch industry, not only as part of the supply chain, but also as part of the development of our business across Europe,” Alistair McPhee said.
Marshall ADG is working with a range of suppliers during all stages of the contract and its subsidiary company, Marshall Aerospace Netherlands BV based in Leiden, which will be providing engineering and supply chain management and acting as a focus for the contract. The contract comprises two main elements, the production of the various containers and a full support programme. The latter encompasses a full availability-based fleet health and usage monitoring and management package, ensuring that the units are maintained to the latest standards, together with a significant training commitment.
The company has already shipped the first 200 containers, the first of which was delivered just seven months after the contract was awarded.
Marshall has had a presence in the Netherlands since 1995 when it provided command and control shelters. Subsequently it has supported the country’s C-130 fleet, provided ambulances, flat racks, fitted out the Boxer AFV ambulances and, most recently, been contracted to provide an advanced Medevac pallet, which is currently in final development.
Fight against COVID-19
“Have you been able to retain a key part of your 1700 strong workforce during the COVID-19 crisis?”
“We have 60% of the workforce working from home and 760 key workers on site, where we use social distancing and other methods to prevent any cross-infections. We provide free meals to employees on site using two vans and giving shopping vouchers to express our thanks and appreciation to them and their families. Our teams have shown amazing loyalty and agility to work through the crisis and we want to recognise the dedication to their essential work.
“There has never been a better demonstration of our company purpose – to protect people in critical situations – than our C-130 support programmes, which have proved particularly important to keep medical supplies flowing. We have had requests from a number of customers to speed up repair and maintenance work to have their aircraft available. They are involved in vital daily training missions and are on standby around the world to support communities in the fight against the Coronavirus.
“We are also actively involved in three separate COVID-19 projects. For many years we have been working with Cambridge University, in particular supplying engineering expertise to several high-tech projects.”
In April this year the company announced its participation in a number of projects in the fight against COVID-19.
Marshall ADG is part of a consortium of British citizen scientists, medical clinicians, academics, manufacturers and engineers that has developed an alternative model of ventilator to support the Government’s drive to equip the NHS.
The new model, the exovent, is a cutting-edge reinvention of the archetypal iron lung that saved the lives of countless polio victims during the last century.
Marshall ADG technical experts have been working round the clock in recent weeks exploring the technical aspects of the Negative Pressure Ventilator (NPV). Their prototype is about to enter testing ahead of rapid production and roll-out. The exovent concept is also supported by WMG at the University of Warwick and representatives from Imperial NHS Trust and The Royal National Throat Nose and Ear hospital. Two leading intensive care units have agreed to trial the prototype ventilator support devices.
With only a small number of moving parts, the components are readily available now in the UK and are not required by other manufacturers currently commissioned by the Government to build conventional Intermittent Positive Pressure Ventilators (IPPV). More types of ventilator can then be built simultaneously – with the aim of 5000 exovents a week being produced – and more options can be provided to clinicians choosing the most appropriate device for each patient.
Exovent is non-invasive, which means that patients do not need to have their windpipes intubated, so they don’t need to be sedated or paralysed. Instead, they can remain conscious, take medication and nutrition by mouth, and talk to loved ones on the phone. It can be used on a normal ward, keeping patients out of intensive care.
The device works by being fitted over the patient’s torso and taking over their breathing through gentle and repeating pressure. It increases the heart’s efficiency by up to 25% compared to conventional ventilators, which squeeze the chest and may actually reduce cardiac function.
The ventilation support device is supported by Sir John Burn, professor of Clinical Genetics at Newcastle University, who is leading the development of a COVID-19 antigen test, “The exovent team has cleverly adapted the old concept of the iron lung, which was used for treating polio. This device is cheap, simple and it will work. I am convinced it provides a real alternative and is worthy of support.”
Speaking on the concept, the task force’s leading clinician Dr Malcolm Coulthard said, “The team has been working flat out for the last couple of weeks. We started out looking at negative pressure ventilator technology thinking that it would allow us to produce literally thousands of ventilators very quickly and cheaply to cope with the tsunami of people with pneumonia that may be upon us because of the COVID-19 virus. However, as soon as we looked into the science and the literature it immediately became apparent that this will allow us to produce less invasive devices than the conventional units in current use, possibly better for patients’ hearts, at a fraction of the price, using off-the-shelf parts. exovent can provide an alternative choice to using Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) by delivering continuous Negative End Expiratory Pressure (NEEP). This method does not require to be driven by pressurised air or oxygen, and additional oxygen that the patient needs can be provided with tubing or a face mask as required.”
Margot James, Executive Chair, WMG University of Warwick said, “We are delighted to be working with exovent to help scale up their non-invasive ventilator from prototype to volume manufacturing. Our engineers and researchers are collaborating with the exovent team on the design, engineering, component sourcing and assembly of the ventilator. I am extremely proud of the unstinting and dedicated efforts of our research team, led by Archie MacPherson at WMG, and glad that we are able to apply our expertise to this important project.”
The family of Stephen Hawking said, “As the family of a ventilated man, we know the life and death difference that access to this kind of medical technology makes. The COVID-19 epidemic has caused worldwide demand for ventilators vastly to outstrip supply. We are so proud to support the technological and manufacturing innovation involved in producing low cost, effective ventilators swiftly and in large numbers and hope the combined efforts of everyone who has answered this call will mean the NHS receives the equipment it needs to save lives at this terrible time.”
The Cambridge Independent reported earlier this month that a stand-by temporary mortuary is being housed in Cambridge at one of Marshall ADG’s hangars.
Marshall ADG provided one of its hangers to Cambridgeshire County Council to be used in the unlikely event that existing local provision proves insufficient. The facility incorporates a temporary prefabricated building constructed inside the hangar and will only be used by funeral directors and those looking after the site and run to the highest standards. There will be no public access or post-mortem activity taking place at the site, should it be called into service
Cambridgeshire County Council leader Cllr Steve Count said, “Local authorities have a duty to ensure that temporary facilities are available, and while we hope we don’t have to use them, we have to be ready. We’re grateful to Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group for playing their part in helping us deal with this emergency situation and we really appreciate them coming forward in this way.”
“Well, you have certainly shown that Marshall ADG will be alive and kicking well, providing engineering innovation and expertise into the next Century! I hope to have a visit when the lockdown is over to see it for myself!” The Editor said.
“You would be most welcome.” Alistair McPhee said.