Highlighting best practice
John Fairall, owner and founder
Our 20,000 square foot
purpose-built site, just south of
Gatwick airport
Based in West Sussex, RF Solutions Ltd specialise in radio
frequency electronics. As designers and manufacturers of
radio modules and remote control systems, they are at the
cutting edge of technology. They supply a worldwide market,
from SMEs to blue chip corporations, with their products being
used in high-profile applications, including
Top Gear
’s test track,
various James Bond movies and even JeremyVine’s election night
“swingometer”. Below is a more elaborate profile ofthecompany.
A modest inception
After graduating in electrical and electronic engineering, John started as a design
engineer in the nuclear industry at GEC Energy Systems, embedding the first
microprocessors in control systems and gaining knowledge of engineering reality.
Moving on to applications engineering, John spent time in technical support roles
before being headhunted by Phoenix-based Microchip Technology Inc., the world’s
leading supplier of microcontroller semiconductors. With a flair for design and
commercial reality, John swiftly rose through the hierarchy from UK to European
technical posts, to become the regional manager of Asia Pacific Region (based in
Hong Kong).
In a career U-turn, John’s decision to come back to the UK to start a company
designing and manufacturing radio technology was a gamble, and after completing
her degree in business and engineering, his wife Kay came on board too.
With no regular income from the company, having just got married, and with
their first child on the way, this was a risk. With long hours and perseverance, the
»Owner and founder:
»Established in 1992
»Based in Burgess Hill, West
»Services: Designers and
manufacturers of high-tech
radio electronics
»No. of employees: 50
»Supply radio remote control
technology worldwide
»Philosophy is “success through
»Growth through research and
RF Solutions Ltd
company began to evolve, and now,
after 25 years of commitment, the
gamble has paid off for the two owner
The company ethos is based around
having a common goal “to succeed”,
placing the emphasis on forming a
relationship between the company, its
staff and the needs of its customers.
As a company, we decided to
implement rigid structure by immersing
the company into ISO 9001 quality
and IPC-610 manufacturing standards,
despite being a small-scale facility.
Company policies and procedures
were put in place, a skills matrix and
training policy was written for staff to
aspire to and an accounting structure
was established. All this laid down the
foundation blocks for the success story
we are today.
Because we invested in recognised
quality standards and staff training
and development early on, despite
being only a small-scale production line
placing 20 components per minute,
we were able to attract reasonable-size
contracts from reputable companies
even in the early days.
The turning point
Our first £250,000 contract was with
Microchip Technology, supplying a
branded version of our ICEPIC in-circuit
emulator development tool, which
they sold worldwide.
John’s successful track record within
Microchip (and subsequent start-up
strategy) meant RF Solutions were
respected despite being above a pet
shop in Lewes, Sussex. This was the big
break: turnover grew, staff increased
and stability became a reality.
We couldn’t have envisaged one day
we would be 50 people with two
fully automated SMT lines, placing
40,000 components per hour, capable
of large-scale manufacture in our
purpose-built facility.
We pride ourselves on high-quality
design and manufacture and have the
original structure firmly in place, even
though it has evolved to accommodate
the growing company needs.
Our greatest asset is our people,
with staff retention being high (some
with 10-20 years of service). When
customers choose our products, we
provide quality, and this can only
be achieved through our dedicated
team of skilled operatives and
multidisciplinary experts across all
departments, everyone tasked with the
responsibility of consistently producing
high-quality products, all with one
goal: “to succeed”.
Our manufacturing facility
We are always
focused on
designing ever
newer and
Rugged remote control
Highlighting best practice
Competing in the market
What makes us unique is that we
provide more than a standard range
of products; this flag-waving exercise
demonstrates our capability to design
and manufacture bespoke systems,
right down to branding and packaging.
We have Asian manufacturing
to contend with – a sector-wide
problem in the UK. We’ve overcome
this by constantly investing in the
latest manufacturing systems and
technologies. Components are ever
reducing in size; therefore the need
for manual labour (where Asia scores)
reduces. There’s a size threshold below
which the human hand and eye cannot
work, so our automated high-tech
production environment can compete
on a small or larger scale.
For our customers, the key benefit is
the direct supply chain interface, the
opportunity to visit to monitor our
processes and the reality of seeing
their products in manufacture.
Asia manufacture carries risk.
Normal practice is payment prior to
manufacture and without knowledge
of the actual manufacturing site.
There’s significant risk that the finished
product may not meet expectations
and it’s expensive to monitor.
Our growth is fuelled by innovation
and by an ever evolving product
range. Moore’s law states: every two
years the number of transistors in
an integrated circuit doubles, which
means we constantly focus on research
and development.
We are “enabling technologies”, in
other words, realising products that
previously could never have been
created. We were one of the first
companies to launch a product using
“spread spectrum modulation”,
providing a ten-mile range from a
module the size of a postagestamp.
Obstacles to work around
We have a great workforce, but we fear
the future may not be so rosy. For young
people with the potential for a career in
STEM, research shows the opportunity
to study engineering doesn’t come soon
enough, in either secondary or further
education. For instance, our son cannot
study an electronics A level as this
subject has recently been dropped from
the curriculum.
The world is increasingly dependent
on electronics and technology;
encouraging young people to join
this sector should be a priority for
government and employers.
With all that said, we are optimistic,
and are anticipating 30 per cent
growth this year. Our industry is
ubiquitous and a staple part of the
modern world, and we therefore feel
safe in this marketplace, so long as
we’re committed to innovation. Our
only struggle is meeting the insatiable
demands for new technology, which is
the perfect challenge for our modern
engineering company.
young people
to join this
sector should
therefore be a
part of the
work strategy
Miniature modules
achieve a range of up to
16 kilometres