Interoperable, ultra-low profile, high-gain satcom on the move

Sam Holliday

Finding the balance

PROFILE

Sam Holliday

Project Engineering Manager


EXPERIENCE

Before joining Phasor Solutions in 2017, eight years at Rolls-Royce starting as graduate trainee, becoming Combustion Aero Technologist, later Functional Integration Lead, Civil Turbines, Aerothermal. At Selex/Leonardo, five years of lead roles in systems integration and mechanical engineering.


EDUCATION

First Class (Hons) Master’s in Mathematical Engineering, University of Leeds

“Working at Rolls-Royce and Leonardo was great training in keeping multiple projects on track, balancing complex detail and the big picture,” says Project Engineering Manager (PEM) Sam Holliday. “That’s the key to successful systems integration – and it takes a lifetime to master.”

Holliday cut his technical teeth working on aerothermal design for low-emission gas turbine combustion at Rolls-Royce. “We ran some experimental research and CFD [computational fluid dynamics] analysis working with a number of academic partners,” he says. “It was very demanding technically and rewarding too. But after four years, I wanted to broaden my experience in a more generalist role.”

He went on to manage a team of aerothermal engineers to deliver the core turbine design for the Trent XWB-97 gas turbine. “In some ways, that set the pattern for my future development. I joined Leonardo and what was then Phasor Solutions as a mechanical engineer focusing on the technical detail, and then my role evolved into systems integration.”

Branching out into antenna

At Leonardo, this consisted of working as a mechanical design lead to deliver electronic warfare design programmes before becoming systems integration lead for a Counter- Unmanned Aircraft Systems demonstrator.

And that’s one of the best bits of being a PEM: you get to work with everybody.

“Although Leonardo is a huge company, with plenty of process, some of its divisions are no bigger than Hanwha Phasor. Sometimes it was hard to leverage the benefits of scale, particularly in terms of knowledge sharing and collaboration.”

For his next role, Holliday wanted to find a complex technical challenge in a fast-paced collaborative environment offering more responsibility. He had in mind an organisation with all the flexibility and get-up-and-go of a start-up, plus the systems, processes and capital you’d expect from an established industry leader.

“That’s quite a shopping list,” he smiles. “But amazingly enough, I now have everything I was looking for. It’s taken some time but it was worth it. I’ve learned a huge amount along the way.”

The Phasor Solutions years

Joining Phasor in 2017, Holliday led the mechanical engineering team to help define product designs, establish in-house test facilities and work on future product concepts. “I was one of the last wave of employees to join the then start-up. My role was to help turn what was – and is – a brilliant core concept into a commercial product,” he says.

Phased arrays have been around for a long time. But re-engineering the technology to create the lowest profile, highest gain AESA for GEO, LEO, MEO and HEO [constellations] remains a huge and ambitious undertaking.

“I loved the energy and excitement when I joined although it was early days for infrastructure, for the testing lab and for processes. That was where I felt my decade of big company learning could help.”

Two and half years in, the team was making steady progress before disaster struck. Critical funding by key investors was put on hold due to the Covid pandemic and Phasor Solutions went into administration.

“It was a brutal experience, compounded by the isolation we all felt because of lockdown. Thankfully, the potential of our technology was clear enough to attract investment from elsewhere pretty quickly.”

It was what I’d been looking for since Rolls-Royce: the best of big company and start-up rolled into one.

Building back better

In June 2020, the company’s patents and intellectual property were acquired by Hanwha Systems and Hanwha Phasor was born.

As one of a handful of the original team asked to stay in the business, Holliday was tasked by the new owners to help get development back on track as the senior management team returned to full strength.

“It was a real privilege,” he says. “I was very committed personally to getting the technology to market and I could also feel the stability and support starting to flow in from Hanwha. It was what I’d been looking for since Rolls-Royce: the best of big company and start-up rolled into one.”

His first task was to work with the Hanwha team, explaining the detail of the technology, and then expedite a route to market, outlining core technology development and product development roadmaps. Holliday’s specialist and generalist roles had to come together to help create a coherent plan of action.

“I moved from position to position as we returned to critical mass,” he says. “In the last few months, it’s been amazing to see the business surge forward as more industry leaders join us.

“Our Principal Systems Development Engineer, Fiona Wilson, has two standards-essential patents for 5G technology. Now she has her sights set on satcom.” (Get the full story)

It’s been amazing to see the business surge forward as more industry leaders join us.

Another recent joiner, Yee Hong Tan, spent 22 years at Inmarsat, most recently selecting, developing and integrating transceivers, modems and antennas for its GEO and new HEO satellites. Accordingly, he’s met all Hanwha Phasor’s competitors.

“With leaders like him in the business, we’re in great shape for the next leg of the journey: to deliver our technology across a range of different products.”

Systems advantage

Smart thinking and hard work over many years mean that Hanwha Phasor has a mature prototype that’s been put through its paces in a reliable test environment at every stage and can move into the pre-production phase. Plexus, one of the world’s best contract manufacturers of complex, innovative electronics has just become a key partner.

“Our steadily maturing approach to development, combined with the collective knowledge we’ve gained testing equipment in house, is a real commercial advantage,” explains Holliday.

His focus now is on improving systems integration, calling on both his multinational and Phasor Solutions experience. “Integration is just as much a challenge as designing the core technology. So my number one job is to make sure everybody understands the cross-functional dependencies. And that’s one of the best bits of being a PEM: you get to work with everybody.

“I didn’t realise how much I was missing that until I got started in this role. It gives you a great overview of what’s going on, from the top of the business right down to ground level.”




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