BAE Systems has received the keys to its new £75m munitions facility in Washington, Tyne & Wear, which will ensure better supplies of ammunition to front line troops and secure 350 jobs in the North East.
Beginning in March production will be transferred from Birtley to the new site, located south of Newcastle, and will be largely complete by the end of the year and employees will make the move in batches over the same period.
A new high tech 250-tonne forge has already been installed in the new factory and much of its new plant and equipment is already up and running at Birtley so that when production transfer takes place it will be as smoothly as possible and without interruption of vital supplies to the front line.
“These are exciting times for our people,” says site boss Lee Smurthwaite. “All the Washington buildings are now complete and we want to get on with the move. We are taking employees round the new plant with their managers this week because we want their suggestions on layouts and workflow.
The move constitutes a remarkable turnaround since 2002 when Birtley was losing money and facing closure. The change is largely due to a revolutionary 15-year £2 billion partnering agreement called MASS (Munitions Acquisition – the Supply Solution), signed in August 2008 with the UK Ministry of Defence.
The agreement commits the MoD and BAE Systems to working together and has proven a great success, delivering increased supplies of ammunition on time to front-line troops. Birtley has doubled mortar bomb production and the new plant will have even greater capacity to meet the needs of the front line.
“Once the agreement was signed we looked at 21 potential sites for a new factory to replace Birtley, which goes back to World War One,” says Lee. Employees had a big say in this process and Washington was the best fit for both the business and our people, as it’s closer to where most of them live. They requested a gym, drying rooms, internet access and a learning centre within their welfare block, so we have incorporated these into the building specification.”
Birtley will be redeveloped for housing following its closure in summer 2012. The site, which has never handled explosives, makes empty shells for filling at a sister site in South Wales.
Colonel Andy Gibson, who heads the MoD’s general munitions team, commented: “Our troops require high-quality ammunition delivered in a timely fashion and the MASS contract between the MoD and BAE Systems is delivering just that. Schedule adherence has been consistently well above 99 per cent and we see this as a deal which is good for the tax payer, good for local jobs and most importantly, good for the front line.”
MASS guarantees the MoD ceiling prices for ten years and includes incentives to make savings, which will be shared between the MoD and BAE Systems. There are penalty clauses for under-performance. It also provides for the development of new, better-performing and safer munitions.
The Washington plant will feature a modern forge run remotely from a control room. It will also carry out machining and treatments of large calibre tank, mortar and artillery ammunition using robotic machining cells and new, environmentally-friendly, paint and treatment capabilities.
Two more manufacturing sites are being transformed over a five-year period under MASS. The improved plants will result in energy savings of 18,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, equivalent to the carbon footprint of 1,500 UK citizens.