Mike Richardson meets with Porvair Filtration Group's aerospace market manager, Andy Cowan (pictured bottom) to hear how the company's proactive approach to filtration and engineering solutions helps it reduce costs – and win awards too! Think about all the exciting developments taking place in today's aircraft and invariably it's the high tech stuff that makes the headlines, such as carbon fibre composite wings and aerostructures, new engine option engines that burn less fuel and state of the art cabin passenger seats and infotainment systems.
Technology is helping to make planes lighter, cheaper and more sustainable, but what often goes unnoticed are the many other parts such as filters, pumps and actuators working tirelessly behind the scenes in an aircraft – all playing a vital role in ensuring that systems are free from contaminants, guaranteeing safety, long service life, reliability and cost-effective operation in demanding situations.
For over 40 years, Porvair Filtration Group has been designing and manufacturing specialist filtration components and assemblies that help protect vital sub-systems in aircraft, such as primary and secondary flight controls, fuel management, fuel tank inerting, power generation, air intakes, lubrication and environment control.
One example is on the Airbus A350 XWB, where Porvair's products include fuel tank inerting filter assemblies, supplementary galley coolant system filter kits, fuel control system filters, fuel tank strainers, power door operating system filter elements, and reservoir inlet strainers.
In terms of cutting edge aircraft technology, it doesn't get much more advanced than this, so why is there a tendency to focus on the more glamorous parts of the aircraft and forget about the humble filter? According to Porvair Filtration Group's aerospace market manager, Andy Cowan, creating an awareness of key components that are vital to the aircraft's operation - and yet are often buried beneath the surface - can often prove to be a tough challenge.
“Filters have historically always been the last products that people think about designing into aircraft systems,” he begins. “An engineer can design a wonderful aircraft system and completely forget about the need to add a filter until practically the last moment, which results in the filter subassembly literally being squeezed into a small space envelope and often without enough room for the pressure required to drive it and meet certain performance criteria.
“We are often driven by customers to design certain things in a shape or format that perhaps is not as optimised as it could be. Having said that, we've developed relationships with our customers to the extent where we are the first people they contact because of our knowledge of the various filtration systems. Every particular system we work on has its own challenges and over the many years we've been in business, we've gathered a wealth of knowledge of what to do on these systems to the extent that we can talk to our customers and advise them on what's best for any given scenario.
“We prefer to work with customers very early in the design stage to produce the most optimised product design. The types of products we design are not very exciting and people don't tend to focus on them, but they nevertheless have a very important role to play.”
By Royal appointment
However, Porvair's good work has been brought to the attention of Her Majesty, The Queen. Porvair Filtration Group recently received royal recognition for its exports when it was awarded an Enterprise in International Trade Award – the UK's highest accolade for business success.
Whilst the Queen's Award was publicly conferred on Porvair back in April 2015 to coincide with Her Majesty's birthday, a further presentation of a specially engraved crystal bowl by the Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire, Nigel Atkinson Esq. – HM the Queen's local representative – took place last October.
Porvair was recognised for its substantial growth in overseas business, achieving increased year-on-year growth in sales of exported products over the past three years. Since 2011, the company has seen its export sales rise by 140%, amounting to 69% of its total sales from its UK operations. The Award serves to enhance the company's reputation at home and overseas, helping to put UK expertise on the map.
And in a competitive global industry like aerospace, Cowan believes the key growth drivers for the entire supply chain include managing aircraft build rates, maintenance schedules and new aircraft programmes. In order to meet demand, he feels Porvair needs to continue driving increased operational efficiencies.
“One of the biggest opportunities for Porvair has been the new engine option (neo) programmes. From the top down, we can make some huge efficiency changes and save our customers a lot of money on technology connected with this programme.
“As a result, we've chosen production equipment that matches our capabilities and a lot of thought has gone into the selection and also our potential for growth too. Over the years we've tried to automate the manufacturing processes of many of the components we manufacture. And if we need to purchase more equipment for upcoming aircraft programmes then this will be brought in via our new product introduction team.”
All pull together
Cowan describes Porvair as ‘a very enthusiastic' company, and during the plant tour to mark the company's Queen's Award, it was not hard to see what he means. Everyone is pulling in the same direction.
“We engage with customers and we are very enthusiastic about winning new business, bringing this business into our manufacturing environment and then supporting the entire process. Porvair works together with its customers as a technical and commercial partnership in a proactive way. We ensure there is a good flow-down of the customer requirements to our workforce. It's critical that we ensure all our employees have a high level of knowledge and understanding of the function of the part they are making, where it is located on the aircraft and what the implications are if we don't get it right.
“In the future we'll be looking more closely at the cost of ownership, designing products with longer lifecycles and increasing our R&D efforts to deliver products that can help reduce the maintenance of some of the other components on the aircraft, such as pumps and actuators. Our key thrust is in driving down cost - not to the detriment of performance, but in getting the balance right between our key performance requirements and how much the customer is prepared to pay.” Pic 2. Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire, Nigel Atkinson with Porvair's managing director, Tom Liddell