BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold visited Paul Fleming CEO of (TEK Group) Tek Military Seating Ltd. at their UK Leicester production facility in May during the COVID restrictions.
It was a timely visit as Tek has recently started production of its largest military order to date from Scania for the Gryphus ROPS requirement under a 4 year contract covering 5 truck variants and the fact that 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Tek’s formation.
Delivery of the fleet of over 2000 new Scania trucks, to replace the existing DAF fleet, for the Royal Netherlands Armed Forces started during 2020 as part of the DVOW programme, with ProTEK again being selected as the seat of choice, this time with its certified Roll Over Protection Structures (ROPS) units which offer greatly improved occupant safety for troops whilst in transit. Each occupant cell features NATO standard ergonomic seats, with four-point harness seat belts to Def Stan 25-9 and secure weapon holders, with both roll over and tree strike protection.
“How long did it take you to win this contract?” the Editor asked.
“We were first approached by the Dutch MoD and Scania at DSEI eight years ago.
Tek had already started supplying seating and vehicle covers on the ATTV Defenture Vector special forces vehicle, which was one of the first platforms purchased under the DVOW programme and were recommended for consideration and then selected for the Dutch Marine requirement for ROPS systems for IVECO 4×4 vehicles in the Caribbean and subsequently for the DEBA Anaconda vehicle also for use in the Caribbean. We were selected by Scania after a long evaluation process against stiff international competition.” Paul Fleming said.
ProTEK seating has been selected for several new vehicle builds of the DVOW programme which started some 5 years ago, with more to come over the next few years. ProTEK seats offer unrivalled modularity and robustness, which are certified to the highest safety and protection standard. TEK’s ability to offer cost effective products along with through life support has made ProTEK the brand of choice by many customers and users.
“You have had the dual challenges of Brexit and COVID since your selection by the Dutch MoD, how did you manage these challenges?”
“Brexit was no problem in the end, there are some additional processes and procedures but no more really than we currently do for non European exports, there were a few minor delays initially at point of entry/exit but these now seem to have been resolved. COVID did throw up some challenges though. We closed both facilities for three weeks at the start of the pandemic. This obviously put all production and deliveries on hold for a short time but it gave us the time to rearrange the production areas and implement other Government HSE requirements to allow us to get back in to full production safely. Fortunately we had only just upgraded all our IT and telecoms to the very latest cloud-based systems so we easily transitioned to a home working environment, allowing our sales and support staff to continue supporting our customers without any interruption, some home working will actually remain in place going forward as we have found it beneficial in certain areas. Production output got back to normal relatively quickly and has actually increased significantly over the last 12 months, which is a great credit to the management team and staff.” Paul Fleming said.
“What was behind the formation of Tek Military Seating?”
“My father and I took over Transport Equipment Kingston (TEK Seating Ltd) 39 years ago, a small commercial seat distribution company based in Kingston Upon Thames that was about to close its doors, I was just 17. I started driving my old Mini 1000 from Tunbridge Wells to Kingston each day, the M25 wasn’t finished in those days so it took a while! For the first year I worked with the manager who had agreed to stay on, learning the products and cutting my teeth in sales, Dad then joined full time and we worked together for 9 years before he retired. Tek Seating now specialises in the supply of all types of seating to civil and military customers in the truck, bus, agricultural, heavy construction, light commercial vehicle and marine markets, with facilities in Tunbridge Wells and here in Leicester, where we employ a total of 40 people. We supply aftermarket end users as well as large work vehicle fleets and have supply agreements with a number of key (OEM) manufacturers such as Plaxton, ADL, Wrightbus and Optare. One key customer that demonstrates our depth of products is the Port of Felixstowe where we manage the seating for all their work vehicles, ship to shore cranes, tugs, fork lift trucks and container handlers, Felixstowe are a 24/7 – 365 operation and they can’t afford to have a vehicle down due to seat issues, we also supply all of their office chair requirements. We have also moved in to automotive seating, recently working with Morgan Motor Company to design, develop and manufacture their driver and passenger seats for the Plus 4 and Plus 6 models for 2022 production and beyond. To broaden the strength and depth of TEK Group, we acquired Sitsmart 17 years ago which specialises in work place seating for 24/7 users such as emergency services, control rooms, government agencies, power stations and CCTV operators, one of our largest customers is Network Rail who we have supplied for over 10 years and have just been awarded another 5 year contract after a competitive tender process. We also supply seating for individuals that may need something a little extra such as people dealing with a disability, the Army’s Headley Court facility (now Stanford Hall MOD Rehabilitation Centre) is a regular customer. Ten years ago, given the terrible injuries received in Afghanistan and Iraq we saw a need for the design and production of specialist IED mine blast mitigation military vehicle seating, so Tek Military Seating was formed.”
“TEK Military Seating is a global supplier of ProTEK® OEM vehicle seating to the military vehicle sector. Designed and manufactured in the UK to the highest standards of safety and protection, the ProTEK® brand includes a wide range of Driver, Commander, Crew, Gunner, Turret, Loaders and bespoke seating for most types of military vehicle, both legacy and new build. With modularity and flexibility at the core of each seat design, ProTEK® seating can be modified to offer maximum fit and function without the need for additional tooling or major design changes, utilising innovative modules which can be attached to most seats to create a solution for our customers’ requirements. Most ProTEK® seats are available in Stanag 4569 AEP55 blast protection versions, in both stroking and non-stroking variants.”
“Who was your first customer?”
“MIRA in the UK approached us to design and build a blast and vibration mitigating seat for the Buffalo MRAP vehicle. For our first project we customised an existing civil seat. The seat was successfully tested and integrated by MIRA and entered service. We went through a big learning curve after this contract and developed a team of expert designers and engineers to develop our own range of military seating from lightweight Special Forces mesh seating to MRAP blast mitigating seats. To that end, my brother Mike who was senior product designer for one of the major worldwide commercial seat manufacturers joined Tek.”
“How many seats have you sold since you formed Tek Military Seating and how many worldwide customers do you have?”
“As far as numbers go, let’s just say it’s in excess of 20,000. For obvious reasons a number of our customers are confidential but we have an extensive international customer base which includes most of the major military vehicle manufacturers and integrators, BAE Systems, RBSL, Supacat, Lockheed Martin, RUAG, Patria and NIMR to name just a few, we are also actively involved with a number of new and ongoing requirements in the UK
“Do you see future growth prospects for military seating?”
“Very much so, we only formed Tek Military Seating 10 years ago, which in military terms still makes us the new kid on the block. The combination of an increasing appetite for innovations in IED protection and safety cases has created strong demand for military vehicle seating which will continue for many years to come, at TEK we also have decades of experience in shock and vibration mitigation gained from the commercial sector which is becoming a very hot topic in the military vehicle environment which will also drive future demand. We have a strong order book and we also provide lifetime support for our customers which can extend to 30 years. We are fully qualified to ISO 9001/14001, AQAP standards as required by all the major defence contractors. Military seating will accounts for around 50% of our forecast £12 million + turnover this year and is expected to grow significantly over the coming years”
“Do you have a large R&D budget?”
“The international terrorist is a clever, cunning and innovative individual who is constantly inventing IEDs and other explosive devices to overmatch existing armoured vehicles. To that end our R&D and design team is dedicated to keeping abreast with all these devices as best they can to build in the resilience and safety factors into our seating products. Tek Military Seating is a major global designer and manufacturer of vehicle seating for the defence sector, with a wealth of experience and innovative solutions whilst raising protection and safety standards across all platforms. Innovation and modularity are at the core of our product development, which enables us to offer a wide range of modules to tailor seats to customer requirement, without the need of additional engineering and tooling. TEK Military is constantly looking to design products to help improve safety and protection, to that end we developed our ProTEK® seating range. The development of ProTEK® seat belt pads are another example of simple, low cost products making a huge difference. The fitting of ProTEK® pads on a harness seat belt reduces shock impact by over 65% when a vehicle is involved in a blast event or traffic accident. The ProTEK® SV foam within the pads protect occupants from excessive shock forces, often experienced by occupants in such events.”
“The ProTEK® seating range includes solutions for driver, commander and crew, as well as more bespoke requirements such as loaders, turrets and limited space seating within main battle tanks and tracked artillery howitzers. Our expertise within legacy fleets, improvement of safety and protection standards, improved functionality, utilising modern materials and processes to reduce weight, whilst making stronger seats, has become a benchmark within our brand. Working closely with our customers on both new build and legacy fleets, we offer a full CAD integration service and FEA modelling to maximise protection and safety levels, whilst keeping costs down. Our advances in blast attenuation seating have been industry and market leading, with the introduction of ProTEK® SV – a specially formulated foam insert developed to be integrated into most of our ProTEK® range of seats, further improving on the blast mitigation performance. ProTEK® SV has been designed to reduce shock forces during a blast event in a none stroking seat – fully tested and certified it offers Stanag 4569 AEP55 blast protection levels of mitigation that are normally only achievable in a fully stroking mine blast seat, the benefits of a none stroking seat are obvious, less weight, less space claim, less maintenance and lower cost”
ProTEK® Driver/Commander Seats
THE ProTEK® Driver/Commander seating range has been developed to offer superior seat ergonomics, safety and protection. Designed for use within military vehicles, with unrivalled functionality and comfort and the highest levels of Stanag 4569 AEP55 blast protection, the Driver/Commander seats can be floor, suspended or side mounted.
ProTEK® Crew Seats
THE ProTEK® Crew seat range has been developed with modularity and flexibility as the main driver of its design, offering unrivalled functionality and cost effectiveness with lightweight robustness and minimal maintenance throughout its life.
ProTEK® Mesh Seat
TEK Military Seating has designed and developed a new lightweight mesh seat to complement the ProTEK® range of military vehicle seats, specially designed for use within open top vehicles operating in extreme environments. This M2 safety rated seat, which is only 17kg, combines superior design ergonomics with modern production technologies to offer a cost effective, robust seat ideally suited for special forces. The option of comfort or heated pad inserts for the seat base overcomes the issue of use in cold climates. The ProTEK® Mesh Seat and ProTEK® DC seats are available in blast and non-blast variants, along with modules to meet operational requirements.
“What other technologies is Tek involved in?”
“TEK’s continual improvement mentality drives our innovation. We are shortly undertaking another round of drop testing with various new ProTEK® SV foam options to further improve on our blast mitigation performance, we are also working on new ways to reduce shock and vibration experienced by vehicle occupants. We are currently running a seat development program using various new materials to reduce seat weights and increase performance even further. We have had great success with our ROPS systems, our latest innovation is the Modular ROPS system option which enables users to create a flexible troop carrying solution, by means of ‘bolted’ units which are easy to assembly and dis-assemble whilst conforming to the same European safety standards.”
“ProTEK® SKYDEX Protected Matting is another new product which adds to the protection levels of MRAPS and other vehicles and is easily retrofittable. THE PROTEK® SKYDEX Protected Matting is supplied as a vehicle kit that can be waterjet cut to fit the specific vehicle design, to both maximise protection and cost effectiveness. Ideally suited to vehicles which require blast protection, this innovative mat also offers vibration reduction and long-lasting durability. The SKYDEX engineered-geometry reduces force and shock by up to 75% as it absorbs and dissipates energy during a blast event – all in a low profile solution that is easily integrated with the ProTEK® range of blast attenuation seating products.”
“What of the future?”
“We aim to make Tek Military Seating the prime specialist military seating manufacturer in not only Europe but globally. To achieve this, we must remain at the forefront of innovative R&D particularly in the field of blast attenuation, vibration mitigation and safety. Our ability to provide both off the shelf or bespoke solutions for our customers has given us the edge over many of our competitors. The future looks extremely positive, we have a fantastic team across the group who I’m extremely proud of, without them we would not have achieved the great things we have so far and I’m very much looking forward to see what the future holds, here’s to the next 50 years !”
Paul Fleming is a candidate for BATTLESPACE Businessman of the Year 2021 he has been married to Laura for 32 years and has three daughters and three grandchildren.