IrvinGQ® is rightfully proud of the lifesaving legacy associated with its products 

Specializing in aerospace and defense solutions, IrvinGQ® is a market-leading £50 million global business. Based around parachutes, aerial delivery solutions, and naval decoy systems, the business employs over 250 people in the UK and France and has supplied products of quality and reliability for over 100 years. 

As Yehia Zakariya, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, explains, the organization maintains proud traditions set by its predecessors. “Our legacy can be traced back to Leslie Leroy Irvin’s world first freefall parachute jump in 1919.” His business, the Irvin Airchute Company, eventually merged with another parachute manufacturer called GQ, and following a further acquisition, IrvinGQ® was created. 

Paratroopers jumping from an airplane“We started off specifically doing parachutes for a range of applications, and then gradually introduced other aerial delivery systems that are designed to get equipment from the air to the ground safely. We primarily focus on military boats, and land vehicles, but it’s not limited to those. We’ve also expanded into naval decoy systems, which are passive decoys that are used when a ship is under threat from a missile.” IrvinGQ® also designs, manufactures, and supplies specialist search and rescue (SAR) equipment for military, coastguard, and civilian organizations. “We provide all the training and maintenance that go with our products, too,” adds Yehia. 

One of the company’s strengths is its ability to see gaps in the market, or problems that customers need to solve, and applying its extensive research and development (R&D) expertise to create a solution. “We do all of our own R&D, so we do a lot of product development with our in-house team of highly skilled engineers.” 

“We have to be right first time,” adds Tony Smith, Vice President of Engineering. “There are no second chances when you have a person jumping out of an aircraft or having to use an ejection seat. We spend a lot of time understanding user issues, and our clients recognize the value generated by our innovative solutions. For example, we are the exclusive provider of ejection seat parachutes to Martin-Baker, and we’ve held that position for 20 years. Martin-Baker is the world’s oldest and most experienced manufacturer of ejection seats, and it doesn’t go anywhere else, because it trusts us. In return, we must provide high quality, high reliability, with no failures.” 

Yehia describes the approach as ‘customer intimacy’. “We operate in quite a niche market in terms of the products that we offer. Before we even supply our products, we talk to customers to understand what they like, don’t like, and what we could do better, and that feedback is passed to our engineering team, to develop the plans further. That closeness to our customers allows us stay ahead of the game.” 

He continues: “Our other philosophy is that we don’t stand still. We can sell a product to a customer, and it might have a ten-to-15-year lifespan, but in five years they will use it differently, and in ten years, differently again. We have got to be able to produce a product that we can iterate as customers’ needs change. Everything we do is for military applications, so as tactics and threats evolve, so must we.” 

A practical example of this is IrvinGQ’s® aerial delivery ATAX product. Militaries need to get vehicles or boats down to the ground safely but also must be able to load them quickly and unpack them promptly on the ground or water. Historically, the kit had to be so well packed to get to the ground undamaged that it took too long to unpack. In areas where getting in and out quickly is paramount, this was not acceptable. “We developed a platform that only takes a matter of minutes to be unpacked and ready to use,” says Yehia. Boat being dropped by parachute

“Aerial delivery isn’t just boats and vehicles,” he adds. “Life-saving aid is also being delivered by IrvinGQ® technology, most recently in Gaza.” It’s clearly imperative the contents being delivered into this sort of situation lands safely and can be distributed and used by those in need. 

Customer intimacy is a contingent part of the overall dedication to quality that underpins IrvinGQ®. As Carl Davis, Vice President of Operations notes, the business must maintain exceptional service from start to finish. “One of our customers recently stated they believe they now have the ‘best aerial delivery system in the world’ following working with us on service, flight trials and product delivery. That was nice feedback, following a year of hard work and it gives great satisfaction to the workforce. It is key to us to share feedback back into the business, so that our people get that sense of pride and achievement from any key milestones.” 

The systems to which Tony, Carl and Yehia refer are being used by militaries around the world. “They use them because the technology is proven, and our legacy of credibility is of huge importance,” adds Carl. 

“Our work is highly skilled and interesting, but also very meaningful. We regularly hear of and publicize incidents where lives have been saved by the products made by our employees. I think the number is over 7000 now. We have had people visit who are alive because of our parachutes. Safety is in the fabric of our business.” 

Tony continues: “We always alert the team in the textiles production area when someone safely ejects from an aircraft with one of our parachutes, so they know a life was saved thanks to what they did. We can genuinely link what somebody did one day in the factory, to somebody being alive another day. This makes a real difference to our people, to the extent that they identify that as a reason to work for us.” 

Referring to the team on the shop floor directs Carl to speak about a major refurbishment to the business’ HQ that’s been underway for the past three years. “As a site, we’ve been here for a long time. On the outside, it may not look very different, but on the inside, it’s always developing and moving along with technology. Most recently, we have merged two sites into one, and that has seen good results in terms of consolidation, both culturally and systematically. It has increased our footprint on the naval decoys side. 

“Overall, we are always expanding our capabilities. Automation has been a focus, as well as new machinery in our metals area, where we continuously invest significant sums year on year. We now have lights out capabilities, so we can run 24/7. The new machines give us much more flexibility in terms of product development, because we can develop more quickly, using better software.” 

In fact, the right software is pivotal to the overall smooth running of IrvinGQ®, and it has worked with K3’s SYSPRO for the past five years. “When it comes to managing our business, we have found SYSPRO to be very agile and stable. We rely on SYSPRO in all areas, to give us the high level of control we need to ensure that we’re providing the right quality at the right cost. Plus, we’re able to deliver on time because we’re ordering materials when we need them. It allows us to create very bespoke reporting, giving us the ability to analyze and review our business.There are numerous ways in which we use SYSPRO, It’s really been a good, strong system.” 

IrvinGQ® has also expanded its purview to the local community and the wider environment. Having recently installed over 900 solar panels on top of its factory roof to utilize sustainable energy, it is also using its position as a significant local employer to, in Tony’s words ‘give back, pay forward’ and at the same time, reduce waste. 

“We are working with local schools and colleges to use our scrap metal and fabric. We don’t want to send it to landfill, and if students can benefit from it, then so much the better. We also do STEM engagement with local schools, where we go in and show them the cool stuff we make,” continues Tony. “We put kids in a parachute harness and generally try to get them excited about engineering. If we can inspire them to make science choices for GCSE and get more girls into STEM it helps us and it helps our local community.” 

This next generation of scientists can only benefit IrvinGQ® as it looks to the future. “We are starting to look at unmanned systems that don’t need someone to pick them up from where they land. We’re talking to major customers about what they see as the next iteration of our products to make them better suit their needs. It’s always about our customers, so we will always be pushing forward with new products. 

“I don’t think anyone would have foreseen we’d evolve from manufacturing personnel parachutes to the range of innovations we have now,” concludes Yehia. “We don’t want to let our legacy or our customers down, so we will always continue to be innovative and maintain our position. We’ve proven our abilities and nobody else can do what we do.”