Composites: lightweight and elegant, adaptable and clearly the future for aerospace.
But, as with so many beautiful engineering ideas, the path from a composite concept to a working, serviceable composite reality is strewn with much detail, wherein resides the devil.
Enter Morson Projects.
The Manchester-based design engineering firm has worked with Bombardier in Belfast and its predecessor Shorts for 25 years, and has been involved with the airframer's Learjet 85 programme through the joint definition phase. Now, it has landed a major contract up to 2011 to create the detail design for five packages including part of the fuselage, doors and the horizontal stabiliser.
The Learjet 85 is Bombardier's first all-composite business jet
This project, which Morson executive director Steve Seddon calls "a huge boost for us", is a major undertaking. The clean-sheet Learjet 85, set to enter service in 2013, will be the first all-composite business jet and the first all-composite aircraft to be certificated under US Federal Aviation Administration Part 25 airworthiness standards, as well as the biggest, fastest Learjet ever. To add complexity, all major structures will be made in Mexico, a location new to Bombardier.
Bombardier, says Seddon, had the parameters all mapped out when it approached Morson, whose strength he describes as getting a project from concept to "manufacturing detail", including engineering-deliverable drawings, stress analysis and production support.
Morson performs no manufacturing, but its services sometimes include oversight of tooling manufacture.
Major clients include BAE Systems, going back 20 years, and EADS, where Morson is an E2S, or engineering synergy supplier. Jobs for EADS have included helping devise the moving equipment that carries A380 wings through Airbus's Broughton factory. In 2006, Morson and Airbus established the Midlands Engineering Centre in Birmingham, to work on landing gear, fuel systems and avionics. The facility now employs 75 people.
Outside the UK, Morson employs 30 engineers in Belgrade, where it established a low-cost base four years ago.
Ultimately, composites represent a transformational opportunity for Morson. The firm's roadmap takes it increasingly into the integration of structures and systems. One beauty of composites is to reduce the number of separate structural parts, which, Seddon notes, increases the need for their integration with aircraft systems. Systems engineering is a focus at the Midlands Engineering Centre.
Good people are key to the business, and Morson is recruiting 150 engineers for the Learjet 85 project. The firm already has 550 engineers in the UK, mostly in aerospace and defence, but it is also active in other industries, including nuclear power. Currently, 30-40 of its people are composites specialists.
Seddon intends to keep those 150 new people after the Learjet 85 contract completes. The business, which today turns over about £35 million ($51 million) within the $426 million Morson Group, doubled in size between 2005 and 2009. Seddon's plan is to double again by 2012. Many of the team working on Bombardier projects for Morson joined to work on a Lockheed Martin F-35 rear fuselage design and analysis contract, and were kept on when that ended.
Hiring 150 engineers is challenge enough, but Seddon is getting some help from one of Morson Group's main businesses, the UK's largest engineering recruitment agency. Clients include BAE Systems, EADS and Rolls-Royce. Seddon says that capability is a key supporter of his operation.
Seddon is proud of Morson Projects' record in retaining talent. Once hired, people tend to stay a long time, he says, with "lots of us here for 10 or 20 years or longer". Seddon himself joined 30 years ago and worked on tooling for the Panavia Tornado.
Morson's range of customers and projects mean working for the firm is "like having lots of careers", he says, as it is quite possible to have worked on everything from the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter to the Airbus A350 and Learjet 85.
Seddon sees some recruits who want to be pure engineers while others are also interested in managing the business. But, he says "a passion for engineering" has to be the starting point. "Engineering is fun."