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F-35 countdown: Providing SMEs with a pathway to global expansion

The global supply chain supporting the F-35 has rapidly grown over the life of the project. For Australia-based Heat Treatment Australia, the F-35 program is nurturing business and research growth opportunities throughout the world.

Joining the F-35 program in 2010, Heat Treatment Australia (HTA) has provided support and services to both the global project as a whole and other Australian companies supporting the F-35's immense supply chain.

For Australian partner companies like RUAG, AW Bell, Lovitt Technologies, Marand Precision Engineering, Ferra Engineering and Levett Engineering, HTA has supported Australian industry participation through supporting the production of high quality products, significantly contributing to Australia's industrial success in the F-35 program. 

HTA's involvement in the F-35 program provided certainty, enabling the company to undertake sustained research and development of innovative technologies and processes for the Australian market, enhancing the capability and competitiveness of Australia's defence industrial base. 

Dr Karen Stanton, director - corporate and strategy, HTA Group, said, "Over the past 10 years HTA has undertaken seen significant investment in infrastructure, equipment, people and processes. Expansion of facilities and processes at HTA are a direct result of involvement in the aerospace and defence programs, especially the F-35 program."

HTA's expansion and growth at facilities in both Brisbane and Melbourne came on the back of additional investment in aerospace and defence projects, which has translated into the introduction of new equipment, expanded facilities, improved quality control systems, increased employment opportunities and improving the skills base of the company's workforce. 

The sustained success of the company's engagement with the F-35 program served as the basis for growing success in additional aerospace and defence platforms and projects, separate to the F-35, and an international expansion, with the company establishing a specialised heat-treatment facility based in California, conducting aluminium vacuum brazing (AVB) projects, which included new projects in non-defence and new advanced technology sectors. 

"One of the biggest achievements for HTA was the establishment of a new manufacturing facility in Los Angeles, California. Our expansion journey began at the start of the F-35 program and we will be forever grateful to be given such an opportunity," Dr Stanton said.

R&D drives success and expansion

This success comes as a direct result of the company's commitment to in-house research and development, with the F-35 program providing the basis for developing key technologies, such as the vacuum-hardening process.

The leading-edge manufacturing technique removed a number of costly and time consuming manufacturing steps and resulted in HTA being the only thermal processing company in the world to be approved by Goodrich Landing Gear to provide vacuum processing with high-pressure gas quenching for F-35 landing gear components. 

HTA's research and development program paved the way for the development of a new AVB process. The development of the new manufacturing process is a major step-change for not only Australia's aerospace industry, but the global industry as a whole. AVB also marked a major development of new intellectual property in Australian manufacturing and for next-generation thermal processing applications and integration across aerospace, defence and space technologies. 

Dr Stanton explained the pivotal role R&D played in the success of HTA, saying, "Capabilities have been developed in Australia that did not exist prior to the beginning of the program. These capabilities are being applied to other programs and platforms, are being expanded to sea and land applications, and are providing solutions across multiple industries and sectors.

"So, what started as an idea to develop Australian industry capability to deliver one program is allowing companies to bid on contracts and win work in multiple sectors that would not have been possible if not for their association with the F-35 program."

Eyes on the future

The future fighter has provided further avenues for HTA to expand their vision and the company's role in supporting the development of Australia's advanced manufacturing industrial base across aerospace, defence and broader sectors of the economy.  

F-35 was a primary driver supporting new development and expansion plans recently completed by HTA to future-proof the company, building on the established success, and establishing manufacturing and industrial capabilities not previously available in Australia, including: 

  • Vacuum titanium processing;
  • Vacuum carburising;
  • Argon atmosphere processing;
  • Neutral hardening;
  • Nickel alloy steel processing; and 
  • Alloy steel processing. 

The expansion of key facilities and development of leading-edge processes at HTA are a direct result of the company's engagement and participation with the global F-35 supply chain. These new processes in particular are required to fill gaps in the global F-35 supply chains and to have enabled Australian industry to compete on all available work packages. 

"In some way, the F-35 program can also be viewed as a pioneer for the Australian industry as a conduit to the defence space. HTA’s journey is exactly as described above, we develop new capability and capacity for the F-35, but ultimately these activities have acted as a pathway to participation in many other projects, platforms and sectors," Dr Stanton said.

 

 

F-35 countdown: Providing SMEs with a pathway to global expansion
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