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Fabric firm wins £2m of orders for parachute cloth

By Mid Devon Gazette  |  Posted: October 09, 2012

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A TIVERTON firm's order books are bulging after it won £2million of contracts for parachute fabrics following a major investment in new technology.

Heathcoat Fabrics is the largest manufacturer of military and specialist parachute fabrics in Europe and the latest deals continue a tradition of parachute production which dates back to the Second World War.

Key contracts successfully secured include the UK and French military markets which, in part, is said to be down to the investment in three new oil-free air compressors at the site.

During wartime, parachutes from the factory were used by pilots, while today Heathcoat's parachute fabrics are used in a variety of ways, from safely landing French paratroopers to bringing the Typhoon Eurofighter to a standstill at the end of a runway.

Managing director of the Westexe company, Cameron Harvie, said: "Using the right technology really matters as the fabric has to perform in some extreme environments, such as on drag strips, where they need a high strength, fire retardant and packable fabric capable of taking a real battering."

He said the new air compressors – which were installed at a cost of just under £500,000 allowed the company to improve the quality of fabric produced on its high-speed air-jet looms. The equipment is part of the company's ongoing investment programme in Tiverton.

Sophisticated computerised control within the compressors allow changes in demand to be monitored and predicted, reducing energy consumption.

Mr Harvie said securing the French contract had been a particularly important breakthrough.

He said: "In the past, the French contract has gone to French companies while the UK deals have tended to fluctuate in line with Government spending on defence."

He said the firm was used to working across a wide range of international markets, also supplying Germany, Kenya and Israel and there were many opportunities opening up. He said: "There has perhaps been a general perception that French companies can be quite protectionist and tend to give contracts to their own firms, but we have worked with other suppliers and generally found the French to be open to doing business."

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