My experience with Ferranti Defence Systems Ltd

Reliability Engineer: 1979–1984

Between 1979 and 1984, I worked for Ferranti Defence Systems Ltd (later subsumed by Marconi Avionics and then BAE Systems) in Edinburgh. I was employed as an engineer in the Reliability Group of the Navigation Systems Department, concerned with predicting, demonstrating and improving the reliability of the company’s navigation products. These included inertial navigation systems and cockpit display equipment for European and American military aircraft; inertial guidance and stabilisation systems for space vehicles including the Ariane launcher and the IRAS and Olympus satellites; and special systems such as the inertial reference platform for the Instrument Pointing System used on Spacelab (ESA’s reusable space laboratory).

I specialised in failure analysis, and during my term with the company I

  • instituted a methodical and forensic approach to defect investigation and analysis of failed electrical and electronic components, from switches and connectors, through the spectrum of passive devices, to analogue and digital integrated circuits and hybrids;
  • developed a highly capable failure analysis laboratory and a catalogue of techniques for analysing defective components to determine the root cause of failure;
  • selected and equipped the laboratory with the necessary test equipment, x-ray, decapsulation, microsectioning, microscopy (including access to an SEM) and photographic facilities to permit electrical characterisation and destructive physical analysis of devices;
  • built up a valuable and broad knowledge base of component types and their construction, and added to the wider understanding of component operation, performance and failure mechanisms;
  • liaised with component manufacturers on component failure and quality problems;
  • identified the causes of serious and persistent component failure, and by their elimination, contributed to the improved reliability of the company’s products.

Ferranti provided me with my first exposure to a Total Quality Management system, then approved to the UK Ministry of Defence’s Def. Stan. 05-21 standard, and I became thoroughly familiar with all that entails. While with the company, I studied for and obtained

  • the City and Guilds of London Institute Certificate in Quality Control, which addresses statistical methods of quality and process control, and core quality systems requirements;
  • and the Institute of Quality Assurance Certificate in Quality Assurance Management, which is a higher level qualification focused on management methods applied to the total quality function.

Ferranti also furnished the opportunity to learn of the typical workmanship standards for electronic assemblies required for military, space and high reliability applications. Latterly in my time with the company, it was implementing DOD-STD-2000, the precursor to MIL-STD-2000 Standard Requirements for Soldered Electrical and Electronic Assemblies, which in turn has been replaced in defence contracts by J-STD-001.