Former Airbus research chief sees scope for further growth at the AMRC

07 March 2016

Former Airbus head of research for the UK, Colin Sirett has joined the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre as its Chief Executive Officer.

AMRC chief executive officer Colin Sirett, pictured at the AMRC 

"Moving here really has been a privilege and an honour," said Sirett, who, to the annoyance of his teachers, left school at 16 for an apprenticeship, rather than take A-Levels and, more recently, chose the Sheffield region in preference to southern France for his new workplace.

"I liked the idea of earning money and I had heard that you stood a chance that one of the local companies would sponsor you through a degree," explains Sirett, who has an engineering degree from Aston and an MBA from Bath.

"This country lost its way when it started forcing young people to go straight to university, which is why what is happening now at the AMRC Training Centre is so massively important. Just look at who is at the helm of many of the UK's leading engineering companies and you will find many former apprentices who gained qualifications while they were at work."

An apprenticeship obviously proved successful for Colin Sirett.

But why pass up on a possible move to Airbus's headquarters in Toulouse, with the attractions of weekends skiing in the Pyrenees or sunbathing by the Mediterranean, the cuisine of the Haute-Garonne and the wines of Languedoc and Armagnac?

The attraction for Colin Sirett is the potential he sees at the AMRC.

"The AMRC can not only drive technological development, it can also translate it into production technology that can go straight onto the shop floor at companies around the world - and that, I believe, makes the AMRC quite unique," says Sirett.

"The organisation has grown significantly and there is plenty of scope for further growth.

"It would be all too easy to say things are going fine, let's keep things as they are and just tick over - but that's not in the nature of anyone at the AMRC.

"Everyone wants to push hard and that means there will be further growth, but it cannot be unconstrained, it has to be managed. That's my key role; making sure we face up to the challenges of growth and turn the organisation into a strong business for the future and a business that can keep on growing."

Colin Sirett's connections with the AMRC stretch back to the organisation's early days, not long after he joined landing gear specialist Messier Dowty - now Messier-Bugatti-Dowty.

The company was bidding to win business in North America and seeking to supply Boeing's commercial aircraft operations for the first time, after establishing a foothold with its defence arm.

Boeing had just selected a brand new Titanium alloy for commercial landing gear, which could be used to make components with larger cross sections, but was so new that no cutting data was available.

A friend at Boeing cryptically suggested that Colin Sirett had a chat with "Keith in Sheffield," who was "doing some pretty neat stuff."

"This was 13 years ago and the information on the Internet and social media we have today didn't exist back then," says Sirett.

"But, I had been set a challenge and didn't want to go back to my friend at Boeing to ask him who 'Keith' was. I eventually found out and brought a couple of colleagues up to the AMRC, which had about 10 staff, operating out of a small unit on Sheffield Business Park at the time.

"We came away from that meeting knowing that we were going to find a solution to our problem at the AMRC."

AMRC's work with Messier-Dowty cut the time needed to machine major landing gear components from the new alloy by 80 per cent and led to the company securing the contract to make landing gear for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

Small wonder then, that when Sirett was invited to join Airbus as head of its long range landing gear programme, he began pushing for the European aircraft manufacturer to join the AMRC.

"The benefits and incredible work we had seen at Messier Dowty were equally applicable to Airbus," says Sirett, who began his working life in his native Gloucestershire with industrial diesel engine manufacturer Lister Petter and went on to work for Lucas Diesel Systems before moving into aerospace.

While working for Lister Petter and studying for his engineering degree, Colin Sirett also got his first taste of working abroad, in New Zealand.

"It was a very good experience, helping to knock off any rough edges. It made me realise that things don't go smoothly all the time and you shouldn't expect them to," he says.

Back in the UK, he became responsible for rationalising separate Lister and Petter distribution networks in Southern Europe, Communist bloc countries and parts of the Middle East.

"We had two of everything, but there were some very, very political nuances you had to cope with in some of the territories," says Sirett, who went on to become responsible for Lucas Diesel Systems' customers outside Europe, who were designing new low emission truck engines and partnering with Lucas for their fuelling and engine management systems for buses and trucks.

"The traditional approach was a cam driven system, but ours was unique and electronic, capable of going from zero to 2000 bar and back to zero in two milliseconds," he says.

Colin Sirett had no trouble making the transition from automotive to aerospace.

"Engineering is engineering," he says. "Sometimes we fall into the trap of believing it's different and that one sector is more challenging than another, but the challenges are pretty much the same."

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