Out of this world

Hertfordshire’s world-class engineering companies specialise in aerospace, space and satellite engineering, communication technologies, electronics, defence and security-related equipment and logistics.

The advanced engineering sector includes top global companies such as Airbus, MBDA, Johnson Matthey, and Smiths Detection, as well as a multitude of niche engineering companies involved in everything from components to consumables.

Across the UK, more than 90,000 companies are involved in advanced manufacturing and engineering, employing 2.7 million people. Between 2005 and 2015, manufacturing productivity grew three times faster than the rest of the UK’s economy. Advanced manufacturing contributes more than £162 billion to the British economy. R&D investment in the sector, at £13.5 billion a year, accounts for almost 70% of Britain’s entire research and development spending.

Advanced manufacturing and engineering contributed £3.5 billion to the Hertfordshire economy in 2015. The value of the sector to the economy grew by 2.1% per year between 2005 and 2015, compared with a national rate of 1.6%.

In 2015 the advanced engineering sector employed 26,600 people in Hertfordshire, and in 2016 there were 2,110 firms in the sector. Since 2010 the number of businesses has risen by 3.8% a year.

AE output

A science and technology hub

Hertfordshire is a magnet for science and technology professionals, hosting 38,800 jobs in 2016. Employment in the sector is 50% higher than the national average. There are 10,300 people working as science, engineering and technology associate professionals, while 15,100 work in skilled metal, electrical and electronic trades.

This technology focus is reflected in a strong military presence. Hertfordshire hosts the Permanent Joint Headquarters, directing military operations and providing high-level advice to government. It is also home to the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology, which focuses on developing security technologies including contraband detection, cyber security, forensics, identity assurance and surveillance.

The University of Hertfordshire is a key contributor to the sector, leading research on advanced materials, nano electronics, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), space and aerospace, and atmospheric testing.

A heritage of innovation

Hertfordshire continues to build on its pioneering industrial heritage. The first production commercial jetliner, the de Havilland Comet, was developed and manufactured in Hatfield in 1947, and Hertfordshire was home to the first digital radio manufacturer in the UK. Stevenage is the leading location for the UK space industry and home to the 2018 ExoMars Rover and the 2017 Solar Orbiter Satellite research and development programmes.

Hertfordshire’s engineering research and manufacturing capability is built on a long history of innovation. Established centres of excellence include:

  • Science & Technology Research Institute (STRI)
  • Centre for Astrophysics Research (CAR)
  • Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research (CAIR)
  • Materials Engineering Research Laboratory (MERL)
  • Institute for Acoustics
  • Institution of Engineering and Technology
  • Airbus – spacecraft design and construction

The University of Hertfordshire and neighbouring Cranfield University are among the many institutions bringing new talent into the advanced engineering sector. Hertfordshire attracts the largest number of aerospace university students in England outside London.

At the forefront of new technologies

The advanced engineering and manufacturing sector in Hertfordshire comprises 2,110 companies, including 340 specialising in engineering related scientific and technical consulting activities. Notable specialisms include:

Instruments and appliances

Hertfordshire ranks fourth in England for jobs in manufacturing instruments and appliances. Significant firms include Aeroflex Test Solutions, Smiths Detection, Teledyn TSS and Mitsubishi Electric.

Aeroflex Test Solutions, based in Stevenage, delivers highly specialised test and measurement equipment and microelectronic solutions to the aerospace and defence industries. With 220 staff, the company also provides a wide range of test instrumentation with expertise in signal generators, signal analysers, microwave, automated testing systems, and wireless/radio testing. Aeroflex is an industry leader in wireless system testing for 2G, 2.5G and 3G technologies.

Smiths Detection in Watford, with 250 employees, provides threat detection equipment for a range of uses including security, chemicals, and airports. Teledyne TSS, also based in Watford, has 70 staff and creates marine navigation, gyrocompass and steering control equipment, primarily for the naval defence industries.

Mitsubishi Electric has its national headquarters in Hatfield and is a UK leader in developing industrial heating, cooling and ventilation systems and solutions for commercial and domestic application.

Pure has its headquarters in Kings Langley in Hertfordshire and is the world’s leading digital radio manufacturer, with over 5 million sold worldwide. Pure pioneered digital radio and was the first company to fully embrace the technology in 1999.

Computers and peripherals

Hertfordshire is in the top ten areas of the UK for the manufacture of computers and peripherals. Imagination Technologies, one of the world’s top three suppliers of semiconductor Intellectual Property (IP), is based in Kings Langley. Its IP is used in a wide array of markets including mobile, automotive, Internet of Things (IoT) consumer, networking, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).

Air and spacecraft

Hertfordshire’s long aviation heritage makes it a key location for aerospace engine and component suppliers and electronics and services suppliers, with 1,800 people working in air and spacecraft manufacturing. Companies such as Swift Aerospace Services (fasteners), Senior Aerospace Thermal Engineering (frames & wings), Aeroflex Test Solutions (test and measurement instrumentation) and Goodrich Aerospace are among the firms taking advantage of local talent pools and the sector’s broad market reach.

Industry experts view Stevenage as the centre of the UK space industry. Airbus Defence and Space, Europe’s leading supplier of satellites, launchers and space services, has a major spacecraft design and manufacturing facility in Stevenage, employing 1,500 scientists, engineers and technicians. It is developing satellites for NASA’s 2018 Solar Orbiter Mission and building the ‘rover’ for the ExoMars Mission in 2018. It also acts as prime contractor for science missions such as Mars Rover, Gaia and LISA Pathfinder; prime contractor for Earth Observation satellites such as Aeolus; and manages and operates the Skynet 5 satellite system for the Ministry of Defence.  

The Airbus site is also the headquarters of Paradigm Secure Communications. Paradigm, which is part of the Airbus group, is doing cutting-edge work, developing voice, video and internet communications equipment for the UK armed forces.


View our Airbus Foundation Discovery Space project

Weapons and ammunition

Hertfordshire is a major centre for the manufacture of weapons and ammunition, employing 1,900 people. The sector is 6.7 times more important in terms of jobs in Hertfordshire than it is nationally.

MBDA, based in Stevenage, is a world leader in missiles and missile systems. The site in Stevenage has led development work on the Dual Mode Seeker Brimstone missile, used by the crews of the RAF Tornado GR4 and the Typhoon F2 aircrafts and considered to be unrivalled in terms of precision. In 2014 MBDA won a Queen's Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category.