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Motorsport: Supplying the Front Line

24 May 2013

MIA chief executive, Chris Aylett has seen, at first hand, some powerful examples of the motorsport industry working in close partnership with the defence sector, and the benefits those relationships have delivered.

Chris Aylett argues that the defence sector and, more importantly, the soldier on the frontline, have much to gain from an even closer alliance between the high-performance engineering world of motorsport and the defence supply chain in the UK.

“For the armed forces, technological advances can, literally, be a matter of life or death. To maximise the effectiveness of soldiers in theatre, defence suppliers do their best to deliver the right equipment, quickly, at the most competitive price. This ethos applies, particularly, to the delivery of urgent operational requirements (UORs). Our soldiers depend on having the latest technology at their disposal. Best practice in supply chain logistics, innovation in lightweight engineering, and experience in the field are all paramount to delivering what is needed.”

The MIA describes itself as the world’s leading trade association for motorsport’s and high performance engineering services sectors and represents the specialised needs of a highly successful industry which, although extending throughout the world and rapidly expanding in the developing nations, is centred in the UK. Its membership displays a wide demographic spread, including motorsport and performance engineering companies, race and rally teams, governing bodies, motorsport services, research organisations, race circuits and universities and colleges.

“Can do” attitude

“UK high performance engineering motorsport suppliers have much to offer in terms of innovative technology which they constantly develop, world class engineering capability and process improvement. These come from a race proven ‘can do’ attitude that delivers real, robust, and timely, value to the front line. In motorsport, there has developed, over a long period of time, an innate culture of on-time delivery, whatever the obstacle or challenge.

“A car must appear ‘on the grid’, somewhere in the world, at a precise time and to the agreed technical specification. No race has ever been held up for delivery of a part! Failure to do so is not tolerated, and is rewarded by the immediate loss of future business – ‘don’t waste time calling us on Monday with an excuse, you will be a past-supplier, by then!’

“These strict motorsport disciplines are the perfect example of UORs – the car, or a newly improved part, will be delivered on time, at the agreed cost, to the highest engineering standard, come what may.

“The armed forces need ever more agile, highly protected vehicles, capable of operating in diverse environments, at different periods throughout the vehicle’s extended working life. Utility becomes more crucial as budgets are cut, requiring suppliers to build flexibility into innovative technology.

“The motorsport supply chain is ‘fast on its feet’ and flexible, well experienced in meeting constantly changing demands for new innovations from customers, and resolving problems to keep their cars winning.

A race season in Formula One, involves just 36 hours of flat out racing use, in two hour increments, all over the world. During this period, more than 85% of the car’s parts and design is constantly changed and improved, always on time and never failing to take its place on the grid, every two hours.

“Motorsport suppliers have earned a privileged position, right at the sharp end of global high performance engineering. They can bring this unique experience to provide strategic input, and innovative sustainable solutions, to the defence sector. These UK-based suppliers bring a new, separate, yet complementary, bank of expertise to resolve complex problems in defence. The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) creates a more stable environment, in which motorsport suppliers can join, and thrive, in the defence supply chain.

Constant innovation

“Constant requirement for innovative technologies requires on-going investment in research and development, an area in which motorsport excels. This high performance engineering industry spends more than 35% of its annual turnover on R&D, an unrivalled ratio in UK industry, higher even either the pharmaceutical or IT industries. This financial commitment to developing new solutions and technology, together with a highly skilled, flexible, hard working and well-motivated workforce, makes the British motorsport sector the world leader it has become.

“The unique business cluster of engineering companies, based in Motorsport Valley UK, is determined to engage more effectively with the defence supply chain, to make better use of their innovation and capability, to mutual benefit.

“After just a few years of effort, we already see examples where the motorsport supply chain is delivering solutions to defence problems. The Foxhound patrol vehicle, for example, a British design using UK companies for 90% of its manufacture – many of which are from motorsport.

“These are clearly challenging times in defence, but such challenges create opportunities. The new defence supply chain will need to work harder, faster, more cost effectively, and with more flexibility than ever before. I am confident this plays to the genuine strengths of the UK motorsport engineering sector. Our ‘can-do’ attitude to resolve complex problems quickly, and never-ending investment in innovation, meets many of these challenges. We, consistently, prove, publicly, we are the best in the world at meeting the tough engineering challenges of motorsport. Our frontline soldiers deserve nothing less".

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