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Thu May 30 2024

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British bridge manufacturer falls to German tanks

23 May 12 Pre-fab bridge builder Williams Fairey Engineering (WFEL), best known for its military applications, has been taken over by German tank manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW).

WFEL's medium girder bridge
WFEL's medium girder bridge

WFEL, originally founded as the Fairey Aviation Company in 1915, describes itself as the world’s leading manufacturer of bridging systems. Its range of lightweight, rapid-deployment bridges are used by 40 armed forces worldwide.

Munich-based KMW, which has operations in Brazil, Greece, the Netherlands, Mexico, Singapore, the USA and Turkey, specialises in the design and manufacture of tracked and wheeled military vehicles. It has annual sales of in excess of €930m and employs more than 3,200 people worldwide.

KMW's product portfolio includes the world renowned Leopard main battle tank as well as air-transportable wheeled vehicles, reconnaissance, anti-aircraft and artillery systems.

This is KMW’s first UK acquisition and provides an exit for WFEL’s private equity investors Dunedin, which backed a £48m management buyout of the business in 2006. Since then, WFEL annual sales have grown 70% to £36.2m in 2011.

WFEL employs 228 people at its facility in Stockport. The five-strong senior management team will remain in position following the acquisition.

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WFEL chief executive Ian Wilson said: “This is a transformational step in WFEL’s history. Joining the KMW group creates an exciting opportunity to leverage its significant global presence, to provide an enhanced range of complementary solutions to our combined customer base across the globe and pool our advanced engineering expertise. It is also a huge vote of confidence in the quality of WFEL’s products and people, who have helped the company to become a recognised global leader in its market.”

Frank Haun, CEO and President of KMW, said: “WFEL is a perfect strategic fit with our existing operations. Our combined product suite provides a modern, innovative, technically advanced and comprehensive solution to meet the needs of today’s military forces. WFEL also shares a similar engineering heritage and commitment to excellence, which gives the two companies a strong cultural fit.

“We are very excited about the prospects for the future as we develop new ways of collaborating for the benefit of our customers around the world.”

WFEL began manufacturing bridging systems in the 1970s after winning a design contest with the Ministry of Defence to produce a new tactical military bridging asset. The resulting Medium Girder Bridge, of which more than 500 systems have been sold globally, first entered service with the British Army in 1971. It later developed the Air Portable Ferry Bridge, which entered service in 2005, and the Dry Support Bridge, which was first deployed by the US in Iraq in 2003.

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