06 June 2002 | Robin Parker
A leading UK defence and aerospace contractor is looking to deal directly with more than 500 current and potential suppliers.
Thales, which makes electronics systems, is using regional roadshows to seek the views of suppliers, some of which have never sold to the defence sector.
The company is concerned that it has traditionally focused on prime contractors at the expense of subcontractors further down the supply chain.
Derek Moore, purchasing manager of Thales's carrier vessel future unit and leader of the roadshow initiative, said it was vital to involve all suppliers in a request for information process, even if the company does not contract with them directly.
"Some past mistakes have been made by focusing on initial supplier relationships," he said.
"We have to give firms way down the supply chain as much information as possible about our needs to support the first-tier suppliers and create stronger relationships."
The 10 roadshows so far have attracted almost 500 suppliers. Another five shows are planned with regional consortia of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Moore said that many suppliers whose products are not used anywhere in the military chain, such as specialist fire-fighting equipment firms, have attended the roadshows.
"We've got to be innovative if we're going to present ourselves favourably to the Ministry of Defence, and this exposes us to new suppliers, products and technologies," he said.
Thales's initiative builds on a two-year project to put together a bid for MoD aircraft carriers, for which it has brought 36 suppliers under one roof in Bristol. Nearly 200 staff from firms including Lockheed Martin and Rapier are collaborating on the bid, which will be submitted by February.
The move coincides with the launch by rival defence contractor BAE Systems of a supplier performance measurement system. It will prepare BAE Systems for its role in the much-delayed Eurofighter aircraft.
BAE, in a joint venture with Swedish software firm IFS, will link payment for Eurofighter spares and repairs to suppliers' ability to meet targets for delivery and repair work.