WFEL – A WORLD LEADER IN MILITARY BRIDGING TECHNOLOGY
By Julian Nettlefold
BATTLESPACE meets Ian Wilson, CEO of WFEL Limited
In January, BATTLESPACE Editor, Julian Nettlefold, travelled to Stockport to meet Ian Wilson, CEO of WFEL Limited, originally part of the Fairey Engineering Group, to discuss developments since the 2006 MBO.
History of WFEL
WFEL’s roots stretch back to 1915 when the Fairey Aviation Company was founded to build long-range bombers. The Stockport factory was established in 1915 to produce DH9 and DH10 long range bombers. The company’s factory was described by air minister Lord Weir as ‘the finest of its class in the world’ It still has the hallmarks of the classic camouflage roof established during World War 2 to protect key defence establishments. By the 1970s it had diversified into making tactical military bridges.
WFEL was acquired by Williams Holdings in 1986 when it was known as Fairey Engineering and subsequently became part of Kidde plc following the Williams demerger in 2001. UTC purchased WFEL, which was part of Kidde plc, in 2005. A year later, when UTC decided to divest WFEL, Dunedin backed the management team of WFEL, led by Managing Director Ian Wilson and Finance Director Cliff Richards, in a transaction valued at £48 million.
Dunedin provided £21 million of equity, for a majority stake. Dougal Bennett and Duncan Macrae led and completed the transaction for Dunedin.
WFEL has a workforce of 230 and uniquely, in the current climate, expects to increase staffing levels to over 250 to meet new orders gained in 2008. The Company provides high specification, high functionality, and complex bridging systems to a number of armed forces across the world. In addition, WFEL is also the sole supplier of specialist consumable steel rods used in the reactors of the UK’s fourteen Advanced Gas Cooled Nuclear reactors.
In June of 2005 Dougal Bennett handed over his Chairmanship of WFEL to a well known City figure and engineer, Richard Case, previously CEO of AgustaWestland helicopters and also a non-Executive Director of FKI together with Gordon Page. Ian Wilson was then appointed CEO.
“How did Fairey, best known for its expertise in aviation, establish itself as the major tactical bridge builder for the U.K. and many overseas armed forces?” The Editor asked Ian Wilson
“There is a tremendous synergy between aircraft and bridging as all require a high level of integrity, accuracy and engineering excellence. From the aeronautical aspect we design structures for maximum strength at the lowest possible weight and from the nuclear side we inherited a skill in welding specialist alloys to x-ray standard. These two skill sets, when combined, placed us in the optimum position to be able to design and manufacture military bridges from advanced alloys. A tactical bridge must combine a high degree of strength together with low dead weight to enable fast and efficient deployment at not inconsiderable spans. New studies state that a bridge must be constructed and deployed from start to finish in less than two hours, as this is the time it takes to detect and destroy such systems”
“Given the association with engineering excellence, can you now use the renowned Fairey name?”
“The Williams takeover precluded the use of the Fairey name, but we are now able to use the ‘flying fox’ logo which was synonymous with the company and stretches back to the famed RAF Fairey Fox Squadron of 1927. In any event, given our more recent success, we are better known under the WFEL name, but the logo certainly gives us a proud link to our heritage.”
Medium Girder Bridge (MGB) development
“How did Fairey Engineering establish the Medium Girder Bridge?”
“Following an extensive tripartite competition between the U.K., USA and Germany in the 1960s, Fairey won the award to build the MGB for all three nations. We are the incumbent bridging supplier to the British Army and over 30 of the world’s a