Icon Aerospace Technology has been on a 10-year journey to transition from low value output to products of a more complex nature, supported by a multi-million-pound investment in continuous improvement.
Prior to the global financial recession of 2008-09, 70% of Icon Aerospace Technology’s output were specific products for a particular customer application. Though each could be described as a unique solution, they were – for the most part – at the lower-end of the value chain.
Presciently, managers at the Nottinghamshire-based company realised that nearly all the aerospace and defence primes were looking for a supplier able to provide something of far greater engineering complexity.
A clear example of the shift towards high value activities is Icon’s approach to the compounds used in its manufacturing process. Previously, the business used to mix all the compounds onsite; production which involved the use and storage of many different chemicals, some of them volatile.
That activity is now outsourced to what Icon considers to be one of the world’s best compound suppliers.
The Manufacturer recently sat down with Tim Pryce, CEO of the 150-year old business, who noted: “By the 21st century, Icon had a Victorian factory and a number of legacy challenges that meant we weren’t as competitive as we could be.
“In 2009, we looked at Icon – which was essentially an industrial rubber company – and made the decision that we weren’t going to be involved in that low value-added process anymore. Obviously, we still needed the output, so we made the strategic move to outsource it, and the quality of material coming in now is just superb.”
The move freed up a 40,000 sqft building, and helped to create not only a cleaner site, but a more energy efficient one. Icon has also invested in setting up onsite laboratory facilities in order to continually develop new materials and compounds.
Pryce explained: “The valuable IP stays within Icon, whereas the lower-value work of mixing is handled elsewhere. That’s crucial. I believe in building a better business to the best of my abilities every day, ensuring that Icon will be here for the next 10, 50, 100 even 150 years; not just six months.”
Pryce added: “When we talk about high engineering content, I mean products which incorporate a lot of design, testing and qualification. Our aerospace seals, for example, go through rigorous fire testing, i.e. placed in front of 2,000°F flame for 15 minutes, cold temperature testing, ozone testing, cycle testing and fatigue testing.”
Icon’s product range has mirrored the physical business’ evolution, steadily producing more innovative and technologically-advanced engineered products.
Now acknowledged as a world leader in polymer technology, Icon engineers solutions to connect separate product faces. Supplying the high-pressure markets of aerospace, defence and transportation (predominantly rail), the business designs, manufactures, tests and verifies products including: seals, ducts, hoses, run-flat wheels and bushes, to name but a few.
Icon has the ambitious goal of doubling revenue by 2019. It is currently working through an order book worth upwards of £150m (based on Teal Group data), and has created 100 new jobs over the past 18 months.