Page 5: Challenges and benefits of R&D
R&D is not without its challenges. These include the risks associated with the costs, the timescales and technical issues in each project. For the oil platform project, SFIL faced several technical challenges. Its R&D team needed to understand the dimensional changes that would occur in a casting of extreme size and shape. Heat treatment also presented challenges. The structure was the largest item ever quenched (the process for cooling a metal casting) in the foundry, and the quench tank had to be modified and re-engineered to accommodate the piece. The product had to be delivered on time, because the structure could only be installed during favourable weather conditions.
Other challenges include maintaining health and safety, looking after the wellbeing of employees and sustaining the environment. These are factors that apply across SFIL, and not just in its R&D facilities. SFIL is committed to reducing the environmental impact of its operation. Manufacturing operations are tightly managed to comply with environmental legislation. Emissions, energy consumption and waste processes are monitored continually. The company has also invested over £3 million in modern burner technology to reduce its natural gas usage.
However, expenditure on R&D can bring significant benefits. It has created a distinct competitive advantage for SFIL. Being the first in the world to produce large-scale cast and forged nuclear components helps to distinguish SFIL from its competitors. The investment in R&D also enables SFIL to focus on major projects across the business and to form partnerships with high-profile companies in the delivery of its solutions and products.
‘The research and development facility enables us to be much more flexible in defining the characteristics of each component and tailoring the manufacture process to suit. The resources here are enabling us to take on increasingly technical challenges and to look at entirely new ways of creating components, which allows for greater manufacturing efficiency and stronger, lighter, more complicated end products.’