Most of these installations were at companies manufacturing composite parts for Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier and for the Comac C919, the aircraft designed and manufactured in China that is due to have its first flight in 2016. USL’s multi-axis squirter inspection systems are now widely used for the inspection of composite structures as part of the manufacturing process.
A reception for the winners was held at Buckingham Palace in July 2015, where USL representatives met HM The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Princess Royal and other members of the Royal Family. The presentation of the award was made at a ceremony on 4 November at the USL factory in Aldershot by the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Mr Nigel Atkinson, accompanied by Deputy Lieutenant Timothy Weale. Past and present USL staff attended and the Mayor of Rushmoor Borough Council and other local dignitaries were among the guests. These also included Professor Tony Dunhill, Immediate Past President of BINDT, with his wife, Enid. Tony’s attendance, as a recent retiree from Rolls-Royce, was particularly welcome given that the company was one of USL’s first customers back in 1988.
Before the formal presentation, the guests toured the USL factory, where they were shown automated USL systems in operation. These included a dual robotic installation carrying out through-transmission squirter inspection of an aircraft composite part and an immersion inspection of a titanium alloy fan blade from a Rolls-Royce engine. Without exception, the local guests, being previously unfamiliar with USL, were staggered to hear that entire machines were designed and built from scratch in the USL factory. Raw materials and a vast array of electrical/electronic components are delivered into the factory, then a few months later a complete working machine emerges. It sounds simple presented that way, but in fact a wide range of design and manufacturing skills are required to make it happen. It was a pleasure for USL staff to show that small manufacturing companies are still alive and well in the UK, despite the constant media coverage showing its dependence on the service sector. This sector was represented after the presentation, however, in the form of a buffet and refreshments.
Since the years covered by the award, a larger proportion of USL orders have come from within the UK but this can fluctuate, evidenced by the fact that USL has recently signed a contract for a new system in China valued at seven figures.