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Ferranti Ltd / Ferranti Defence Systems / Ferranti International

By the early 1990s the only military airborne radar capability that Britain had was GEC Ferranti, based in Edinburgh. If the ECR 90 radar system — the system for EFA — was not developed and operated by EFA, that British airborne radar capability will be lost for all time. GEC Ferranti operated from plants in Edinburgh, Donibristle in Fife, Boreham Wood, and Milton Keynes. The company estimates that 905 jobs are directly dependent on EFA development work — 570 with GEC Ferranti and 335 with sub-contractors.

Ferranti had a tremendous history in airborne radar. It provided the radar for the Lightning aircraft in the 1950s, and the Blue Fox radar, which performed well in the Sea Harriers during the Falklands war, and the Blue Vixen for the updated Sea Harrier accepted by all to be performing well.

Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti [1864-1930] was a British electrical engineer, born in Liverpool in 1864, who started his scientific investigations early. His first invention, at the age of 13, was an arc light for street lighting. At the age of 16 he built and patented an electrical generator called the "Ferranti dynamo" with the help of Lord Kelvin. He began working on electrical installation projects while employed by the electrical engineering company Siemens Brothers in Charlton, London.

He believed systems to distribute electricity to homes and businesses should use alternating current. The opposition, including Thomas Edison, believed direct current was safer. Alternating current won. As chief engineer with the London Electric Supply Company, Ferranti designed and oversaw construction of the Deptford Power Station, the first high-voltage generation station in the world. The power plant brought electricity to most of central London. In all, Ferranti was granted 176 patents for such things as the alternator, high-tension cables, circuit breakers, transformers and turbines.

The group of companies that he built produced a variety of electrical and mechanical devices that included textile machinery. The business founded by Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti in 1882, built the world's first high voltage alternating current power station. Subsequently the company diversified into the design and manufacture of transformers, meters and switchgear for the electricity supply industry, which proved to be the pattern for successful development.

Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti's company was based in London until 1896, when it moved to Hollinwood, Oldham. It became Ferranti Ltd in 1901. During the twentieth century, Ferranti Ltd became a global company, renowned for its technological innovations. Following financial difficulties, the company ceased trading in 1993. Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti's first commercial product was the Ferranti-Thomson alternator of 1882. During Ferranti's lifetime, the product range grew to include transformers, cables, meters, domestic appliances and radio components. The company also undertook special contracts, such as supplying switchgear for the Cunard liners Mauretania and Lusitania in 1907. Government defense contracts became a source of business during the First World War, when the Hollinwood factory became a munitions works. Later defense work included radar and missile guidance systems.

Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti was an electrical genius but capitalist societies do not reward men who are geniuses, they reward men who can manipulate finances. This is precisely what happened. In 1938 the firm made only a trickle of profit. One of his new factories in Edinburgh began to build the then revolutionary gyroscopic gunsight. This site became the largest science based company in Scotland, now BAe Systems.

During the twentieth century, Ferranti Ltd opened several factories and research facilities in the Manchester area, including Moston, Wythenshawe and Gorton. It also had factories in Edinburgh, Dalkeith and Aberdeen, which specialized in avionics and numerical control systems. In 1956, Ferranti Ltd opened a digital systems research facility in Bracknell, Berkshire. The first, and most successful, overseas manufacturing subsidiary was set up in Canada in 1912. Further overseas expansion made the company a global operation by the early 1970s.

In 1950 Ferranti's was entrusted with the development of important components of the Bloodhound I, a first-generation surface-to-air guided weapon designed for the Royal Air Force. Ferranti's was made responsible for the guidance and control of Bloodhound I, and for the launch control equipment related to it. Development was carried out on the basis of cost-plus. Ferranti's share of the total development cost of £32 million was about £8 million, on which their profit was £400,000, or about 5 per cent. of the cost.

From the 1950s, Ferranti Ltd was at the forefront of fields such as computer technology, microelectronics and avionics. As business expanded, new factories were opened in Britain and abroad. The Ferranti family retained control until the mid-1970s.

By 1980 some 60 percent of Ferranti's production was on defence contracts. Ferranti's success with defence contracts has been created to some extent by its efficiency in micro-circuitry. The investment of the Ferranti family was saved by the National Enterprise Board in 1974 and by 1980 the family was sitting on a financial bonanza. The NEB, which became such a fiasco, was the brainchild of the then Secretary of State for Energy—the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). He decided that he did not simply want an industrial conglomerate posing as an aid to industry but that he also wanted a body that would, in his words, help "industry in the public sector to change the power structure of our society." Following words of that kind, there was bound to be hostility to the concept of the NEB. All the Ferranti plants and factories were located in assisted areas, geographical areas that were formerly assisted areas, or in special development areas.

Financial difficulties arose from the merger with the US-based International Signal & Control Group in 1987. Contracts to develop an anti-armor missile — possibly ground - and air-launched versions — and the construction of a factory in Pakistan to build the weapons, were included in the accounts of International Signal Corp (ISC) at the time of its merger with Ferranti in 1987. However, these contracts were either cancelled or never existed, and the sums of money allowed for in the Ferranti accounts had not been paid. Ferranti were in fact warned, by their bankers, of the precarious state of ISC before the acquisition.

In 1988 Aeritalia and Ferranti established Elettronica Aerospaziale Europea SpA in southern Italy through Elmer to seize new opportunities in the design and production of high quality electronic systems and equipment. In 1989 Aeritalia, the Italian aerospace company (IRI-Finmeccanica group), has reached an agreement with Ferranti International Signal to acquire 50% of two companies controlled by Ferranti, Elmer SpA of Pome- zia and Laben SpA of Vimodrone (Milan), by underwriteing new shares for 50 billion lire. As of 31 March 1988, Elmer and Laben's combined annual sales were 172 billion lire.

After having acquired Ferranti Defence Systems, the British company GEC-Marconi was assigned the task of producing a radar for the future European EFA [European Fighter Aircraft] super?ghter, the result of a joint effort between the FRG, the UK, Italy, and Spain. At the same time, Thomson CSF has been working on a radar for the future French Rafale super?ghter. An agreement was signed in July 1989 by Thomson CSF and Ferranti. The fact that Ferranti’s radar activities were now in the hands of GEC-Marconi certainly favored GEC-Marconi’s contacts with Thomson CSF. In June 1991 Thomson CSF and GEC-Marconi established a European economic interest group called "GEC Thomson Airborne Radar," held by the two companies in equal proportions, responsible for developing active antennas for new-generation combat aircraft and for modernizing those of existing aircraft.

In December 1989 Ferranti shareholders were plunged into even more confusion after the stricken electronics group was told that British Aerospace had decided not to make a bid. BAe decided to drop out after it studied the Coopers & Lybrand report into the frauds perpetrated on Ferranti's International Signal & Control subsidiary and the revised accounts for the year to March 1989. In mid-October 1989, it said that it was merging its missile and guidance systems businesses with those of Thomson into Eurodynamics as a means of building up a world-scale alternative to the US defense companies. Ferranti would seem to have been a logical addition if the price was right.

As a result of financial difficulties, Ferranti International Signal plc had to cease trading in 1993. Ferranti's receivership was triggered at the beginning of December 1993 by GEC's decision not to buy the whole company. When Ferranti went into receivership in 1993, the group was broken up. Ferranti's receivers named GEC as the preferred bidder for the collapsed group's defense systems and simulation and training divisions, which employed 1,100 people. Ferranti Defence Systems Ltd (subsumed by Marconi Avionics) ultimately became part of BAE Systems in 1999 when BAE and GEC-Marconi merged to form Europe's biggest defense and aerospace company.

Ferranti Technologies Ltd. was founded in 1994 and is based in Oldham, United Kingdom, with 200 employees and revenue of about $40 million. As of July 26, 2007, Ferranti Technologies Ltd. operates as a subsidiary of Elbit Systems Ltd. Ferranti Technologies Ltd. engages in the design, development, prototype manufacture, and engineering qualification of power and control electronics for aerospace and defense industries in Europe and internationally. The company offers a range of design engineered power and control products, such as converters, inverters, transformer and battery charger rectifier units, battery chargers, power supplies, control systems, and power systems for air, land, and sea applications. It also provides avionic and mission systems comprising integrated cockpits, avionic systems, head-up/down display and sight helmets, advanced weapons, training and simulation systems, electro-optic combat systems, helmet mounted displays, mission computers, cockpit management systems, smart munitions kits, advanced laser designators, range finders, optronic payloads, and airborne reconnaissance systems for fixed and rotary wing aircraft. Ferranti Technologies counts BAE Systems, the Ministry of Defence and Qinetiq among its customers.

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Page last modified: 16-05-2013 18:41:02 ZULU