A place on Team Tempest topped the Oxley Group’s wish list from the minute then defence secretary Gavin Williamson announced the programme at the Farnborough International Airshow in July 2018. Now, just two and a half years later, the world-leading designer and manufacturer of LED lighting systems, based in Ulverston, Cumbria, is working on the initial stages of the programme, demonstrating technological capability and what is possible for the future platform.
Oxley’s marketing manager Jayne Moorby was among those at Farnborough to hear that original announcement. She said: “As soon as the project was revealed we knew we had to be part of the programme. There’s a real buzz and excitement about Tempest and the opportunity to be involved in it in the business. It’s so exciting to have a new programme like this in the UK and it’s such a massive opportunity for people in Cumbria to be able to contribute to one of the world’s leading programmes. It is going to be really critical in supporting the SME supply chain. Having the long-term surety of a contract like Tempest enables SMES to invest in bringing on designers and engineers; to invest in technology that allows us to have an apprenticeship programme that brings young people through the ranks. Probably our biggest challenge in Cumbria is the skills shortage. This project will give young people leaving school a sense of real excitement and opportunity in what may be a difficult labour market for them.”
The business also believes being a member of Team Tempest will open up more doors to opportunity as it continues to develop its global market. The group, which has an 80-year history, has already had widescale success in exporting. Overseas sales account for more than 80 per cent of turnover and cover 34 countries across the world. Oxley works on prestigious programmes with a host of major aerospace and defence companies. Key international projects include delivering an LED external lighting suite for the Gulfstream G500 and G600 in the US, a range of external lighting for the Saab Gripen in Sweden and a contract to develop the external lighting system on the KF-X Fighter Aircraft programme for South Korea.
A Developing Relationship
Jayne says: “Tempest is going to be the most advanced programme in the world. The kudos it gives us to win other business is really significant.”
Oxley has a 180-strong workforce, with 150 of those based in Cumbria. Its relationship with BAE Systems began when it was approached to work on upgrading the lighting system of the Hawk trainer. Oxley is renowned for expertise in new product development and invests heavily in R&D and technologies to sustain future growth. Another strength is its agility.
Freddy Oxley, the company’s founder, had a philosophy about ‘self-sufficiency’ and Oxley still provides a full end to end service in house.
Sales manager David Howell says: “We’re an approachable company, we get really involved with and get to know the customer. We feel we’ve got an excellent relationship with BAE Systems built on our work on the Hawk programme.”
Oxley has continued to build strong links with BAE Systems at all levels, now through its work on Tempest.
Richard Harris says: “It is a true collaboration. There’s an outstanding team at BAE Systems. On the project side the technical and management teams are talking at various levels. Personally speaking, I manage a lot of different projects within aerospace and dealing with the team at BAE Systems has been a breath of fresh air.”
Looking at its role in Tempest, technical director Mark Jordan describes working on a UK project as ‘fantastic’ and also highlights the collaborative ethos. He adds: “That for me is the beauty of the work we’re doing. In large programmes, it’s important to have flexibility, on Tempest we’re working together to define requirements. When we’re involved at a very early stage, we are able to influence the direction of the lighting system. It’s great that you can actually be innovative, but you’ve got to work together with the aircraft manufacturers as well. It’s about not treating the lighting system as an afterthought. The exterior lights on an aircraft are in key locations and can influence the aircraft design. If you’re considering the lighting system right at the beginning it actually helps the overall platform.”
Through its earlier R&D work, Oxley has developed multi-functional lighting units that are more aerodynamic and more closely integrated with the general shape of the aircraft.
Its engineers are also looking to further develop the software in individual lights that can monitor the ‘health’ of the system and report back to the aircraft. The Oxley team has been working heavily on Tempest for the last year and is set to deliver a demonstration product to BAE Systems that will highlight ‘the best of what the current technology can do.’ Future-proofing whatever system is developed is another challenge and the team is also looking at future design concepts.
Mark points out the advances made in LED lighting over the past decade and the speed at which things have developed. That “unbelievable” pace will continue, he says, making managing obsolescence vital. He adds, “The next part of project will be examining what the lighting system needs to look like when Tempest goes into production.”
Oxley has invested in Tempest R&D work. David says, “We’re a small company, so we have to choose our projects carefully and this was right at the top of the list. We understood that it would be a joint funded development. But just being on the platform says a lot about the company. It will open up doors.”