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Q&A with Welding Institute President Dave Holmes

Tue, 02 March, 2021

Dave Holmes OBE, CEng, FRAeS, FIET, FSOE, FIPlantE, FWeldI is the Operations & Technology Programmes Director BAE Systems – Air, as well as being the President of The Welding Institute.

To help celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Welding Institute and, by extension, TWI, we reached out to him to find out more about the work of BAE Systems as Industrial Members of TWI Ltd as well as Dave’s own role as Welding Institute President.

Can you start by letting us know a little bit more about BAE Systems and your role at the company? (You can include some background to your own career here too, if you like)

At BAE Systems, our advanced defence technology protects people and national security, and keeps critical information and infrastructure secure. With over 85,000 employees across the globe, we operate in the air, maritime, land and cyber domains. My role is as Operations and Technology Programmes Director within the Air Sector in which we have circa 24,000 people.

In this role, I have responsibility for the continued development and deployment of the sector’s manufacturing strategy, which covers our air activities across the UK, KSA and Australia. Within that element of the role, my team is responsible for evaluating and implementing manufacturing technologies to get us ready for future programmes such as Tempest.

With the close relationship between manufacturing and engineering, and the importance of a symbiotic technology strategy across those two key functions, we recently formed a Technology Programmes organisation, which brought together existing technology delivery, and exploitation teams from across the Air Sector. This is with the vision to be the exemplar providers of technology solutions for the Defence, Security and Aerospace sectors; pushing the boundaries, redefining the rules and creating differentiating advantage for our stakeholders. 

The Technology Programmes organisation will lead our sector’s development of an integrated technology strategy that underpins operational business plans for both current and future products. This will include shaping partnerships with other organisations, and academia that help contribute to defining and delivering the Air Sector’s strategy. 

On a personal note, I joined the company (then British Aerospace) back in 1984 as an apprentice. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of working on some great, iconic products, and perhaps more importantly with great people over that 30+ year career.

As you mention, you have been working at BAE Systems for some years now, but how did you first become aware of TWI?

Over 30 years ago. Our company has had a long-standing relationship with the TWI from a welding and joining perspective as well as non-destructive testing. We have used them extensively for access to their vast library collection for references, together with the specialist knowledge they have and the training they provide.

How do you think TWI helps to advance and support the goals of BAE Systems and how has the relationship developed over the years?

From a personal perspective, I think that whilst the relationship has been one developed over many decades, over more recent years it has morphed in to a true strategic partnership. I believe that TWI has been a critical cog in the machine helping BAE Systems achieve our goals, specifically in the area of operational excellence. TWI supports a number of the key technology themes we have running within the business in the Land, Maritime and Air Sectors, and are an important research partner.

One of the more recent developments has seen TWI’s Anthony McAndrew offer dedicated support to BAE, how do you feel this change of focus has benefitted BAE Systems – both for the company and employees?

The role of key account manager has been in place since we commenced the definition of a MoU with TWI over five years ago. Anthony McAndrew has successfully continued in this role and really helped bring the partnership to life. As examples of this, despite the global pandemic, during 2020 good progress continued on the projects placed by BAE Systems on TWI, three Fellows of The Welding Institute were appointed from within BAE Systems, and 50+ meetings and webinars were organised with 120 new contacts made. Currently, we have 13 live projects ongoing and 21 opportunities identified. Having dedicated support has proved to be a real plus for both partners, and is definitely a relationship we will continue to cultivate.

As we mentioned above, you are also the President of The Welding Institute, can you let our readers know what this entails and why you decided to take up the position?

Firstly, I would like to say what an honour and privilege it was to be asked to be TWI's President, the request came completely out of the blue and I was humbled that the Board of TWI would place their confidence in me to act in this capacity, especially as we celebrate our 75th anniversary. 

In my capacity as President, I have supported a number of engagements and sessions with up and coming academic students who are making full use of the world-leading capabilities that the Institute has to offer, whilst at the same time trying to promote the complete capabilities that the Welding Institute has. I have also looked to use my network, developed over the last 30 years or so, across various industry forms, partners and academia to help create new relationships to promote the great work and the future opportunities that exist by partnering with The Welding Institute. 

I am also a huge supporter of continuous personal development and, as such, I have endeavoured at every opportunity to promote the benefits of professional registration and continuous personal development. I believe that the UK has some of the best engineers and manufacturers in the world, and it is only right and proper that they should be professionally recognised - ensuring they, as individuals, can get the true recognition that they deserve. 

Finally, despite the global pandemic I have tried to progress the ‘Breathe Freely’ campaign. Health and safety should be at the heart of everything that we strive to do, not just as The Welding Institute, but as a society. We have a social and moral obligation that everything we do should be done with the health of the individuals involved and the environment at the forefront of our thinking.  Regrettably, due to the pandemic, I have not been able to make as much progress in supporting this important topic as I would have liked, but I am committed in my role as President to continue to provide sponsorship and resources to this extremely important agenda.

Finally, I must admit that due to the global pandemic not being able to make use of the President’s private jet has been a bit of a blow!

Speaking on Professional Membership, why do you think this is an important thing for individuals to explore?

Professional Membership supports the enduring professional development of individuals and enhances career development. The Welding Institute has the unique benefit of being part of the TWI group, which offers unrivalled access to cutting edge research and development. Professional members will be able to develop and enhance their contributions to the advancement of welding/joining, support the development of others, increase the level of involvement between industry and academia, and record CPD.  They can also gain access to a network of world leading academics and practitioners, all of whom are keen to share knowledge and expertise with the current and next generation of engineers.

Of course, you have built up a strong relationship with TWI as a whole, but are there any notable moments from your time working alongside us that you would like to mention?

One of the notable technical moments was the ground-breaking work on Friction Stir Welding, which resulted in us securing a coveted BAE Systems Chairman’s Award in 2019 – this is an internal recognition scheme sponsored by our Chairman spanning our entire global operations. Other notable moments was the signing of the MoU which focuses on the growth plan, trade study review, public funding assessment and training – a set of key building blocks in cementing a long term, mutually beneficial relationship.

Thank-you for your time, but before you go, is there anything more that you would like to add?

I would just like to thank everyone for their support during my term as TWI president. While the last year has not gone how I imagined, or how I would have wished, the team has continued to deliver fantastic work and have proved themselves a real credit to themselves and TWI.

I believe that TWI has an important role to play as our industry bounces back from the impacts of the global pandemic. As we move through Industry 4.0, organisations like TWI will have the opportunity to play a central role, helping connect industries and academia who share a common purpose, as well as continuing to promote professionalism and the advancement of knowledge in welding, joining and allied technologies.


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