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CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, based in Geneva and the largest particle physics laboratory in the World with an average annual budget of 1.1 billion Swiss Francs (CHF), offers many opportunities for UK companies to supply the products and services it requires.
It spends in the region of £350M annually on procurement. Whilst some of this budget is spent on the development of new technologies and new facilities, CERN’s requirements are not all high tech. For example, CERN is a large site with around 14,000 people working there and so it has civil engineering requirements to maintain and develop infrastructure. CERN have broad requirements from a lot of computing equipment to manage the vast amounts of data produced to cables, stationary, financial and consulting services etc.
As the UK is a CERN Member State and a major contributor, CERN tries to assist the UK in getting a proper return on investment through contracts placed with UK companies. STFC manages the subscription costs for the UK and as part of this the STFC Business Opportunities team act as the UK Industrial Liaison Office. The team supports UK companies who are interested in working with CERN.
CERN technical and purchasing staff will try to propose suppliers for all opportunities. It is therefore important for UK companies to build relationships with the technical and purchasing staff at CERN and the STFC Business Opportunities team can assist with this.
Companies can also be selected from CERN’s supplier database by the procurement service; please register on the database here and update the contact information for your company on a regular basis.
The Industrial Liaison Officer (ILO) for each Member State can also put forward additional companies to CERN. The STFC Business Opportunities Team is the UK’s ILO for CERN, and opportunities are advertised via STFC’s Tender Opportunities service. To receive opportunities by sector please register here.
Price enquiries (DO) valued between 50,000-200,000CHF are issued by the CERN procurement service via the CERN e-tendering portal. Selected bidders will receive an email that will allow access to the e-tendering portal; the portal contains the technical specification, tender form, links to CERN’s general conditions and any other key documents such as drawings. All bids must be submitted via this portal, any bids submitted via email will not be considered. Please allow at least one hour before the deadline to upload the tender documents on the portal. The portal should also be used to inform CERN if your company wishes to decline (a decline is better than no response and will help to ensure your company is included in future tenders).
Price enquiries are not publicly available but the Industrial Liaison Officers (ILOs) are given access to all enquiries exceeding 50,000 CHF (approximately £38,000). The ILOs are able to suggest additional companies but can only put a limited number of companies forward. The final decision on which companies to include is CERN’s and they cannot always include all companies suggested by the ILOs.
Please register on the STFC Tender Opportunities service to be informed of current price enquiries.
The deadline for bidders to submit a bid is usually 4 weeks from when the tender is released. It is within this 4 week period that the ILOs have the opportunity to suggest companies for CERN to include. Therefore it is vital that you respond to STFC as soon as possible if you would like your company to be put forward. Only ILOs can suggest additional bidders; firms cannot propose themselves.
For requirements exceeding 200,000CHF (~£150,000) a public announcement is made on the “Forthcoming Market Surveys and Calls for Tenders” section of the CERN Procurement website. This page contains information on the current and forthcoming Market Surveys. A market survey is the first stage of the tender process and consists of a qualification questionnaire which is used to select the firms to be invited for tender. Submitting a market survey does not commit you to bidding, but if you do not complete a market survey then you will not be invited to tender.
Market survey invitations are sent to firms proposed by the technical contact or the purchasing contact or selected from CERN’s database of registered companies. The invitation mail makes available online all the necessary documentation including a cover letter, a brief technical description, a qualification questionnaire and any other relevant documents such as drawings. If a company is interested in an opportunity they are required to fully complete the qualification questionnaire and return it directly to CERN; full instructions are in the cover letter.
As for price enquiries, ILOs are informed about market surveys and circulate the information to relevant firms in their countries. However, in this case, any firm which is interested may reply to the ILO as above but it may also contact CERN directly. There is no limit on the number of firms which may wish to reply to a market survey, and replying to a market survey does not in any way commit a firm to making a bid if it is selected to participate in the subsequent invitation to tender stage. Finally, market surveys are considered “valid” for a period of 12-18 months and several invitations to tender may be issued based on one market survey.
There is a minimum 4 weeks to reply to a market survey. Often there is a delay between the market survey and the subsequent invitation to tender. Firms are informed if they have been selected for the tender only when the invitation to tender is issued; if they haven’t been selected they have the right to ask for feedback.
Market surveys allow CERN to pass information to industry on future requirements, update their list of suppliers and also draw up a final technical specification for the invitation to tender that follows. It also gives the companies a chance to seek an early exchange of technical information with CERN and vice-versa; and the ILOs a chance to propose potential bidders.
If firms are planning to submit a bid in consortia they are required to submit the qualification questionnaire together.
Only companies which have fulfilled the qualification criteria of the market survey concerned shall be considered for the final selection of firms. There are occasionally exceptions to this and if you can’t meet one of the criteria then you should provide a full justification.
Factors that affect whether the firm is selected or not include the likelihood that the selected firm will submit a bid and CERN’s previous experience with the firm, if any. The number of firms selected from each Member State for both Supply and Service contracts shall take into account the Member State’s contribution and whether the Member State is receiving a fair return on its investment (Industrial Return). The UK is viewed favourable as it is poorly balanced for industrial return.
The invitation to tender (IT) is sent to selected suppliers via email with a link to the e-tendering portal (this is very similar to the process for price enquiries). Documents available on the portal include a cover letter, technical specification (technical annexes and technical drawings) and tender form.
The deadline for bidders to submit a bid is at least 4 weeks from mailing date. Sometimes potential bidders are invited to a bidder’s conference where complex aspects of the contract may be explained with attendance compulsory for firms intending to bid.
Please allow at least one hour before the deadline to upload the tender documents on the CERN e-tendering portal.
If your firm is selected but you will not be bidding please ensure you inform CERN of your decision via the e-tendering portal; this will help to ensure you are invited for future tenders.
Contracts for supplies will usually be awarded to the firm submitting the lowest bid that complies with the financial, technical and delivery requirements (lowest compliant bid). Service contracts are usually awarded on a best value for money basis, to the most economically advantageous bid.
The selection and adjudication criteria are available on the CERN procurement website.
For all Supply contracts over 100,000CHF the alignment rule may apply. As the UK is poorly balanced for supplies, this is applicable to UK companies. If the lowest bid is from a company from a poorly balanced Member States the contract will be awarded to them. However, if the lowest bid is from a company from a well-balanced Member States, CERN will enter negotiations with the next two lowest bidders if they are from poorly balanced Member States and within 20% of the lowest bid. The lower of the two bidders from the poorly balanced Member State is given the opportunity to align their price to the price given by the lowest bidder, if this company agrees and meets all the requirements the contract will be awarded to the company from a poorly balanced Member State. If they disagree, the second lowest of bidders will be given the opportunity to align. If they also disagree the contract will be awarded to the lowest bidder from the well balanced Member State. Full details are available on the CERN procurement website.
CERN purchases many high technology products and components from industry but it also spends approximately 150 million CHF every year on service contracts spanning a wide range of services from cleaning and gardening to the maintenance of CERN’s core accelerator systems and the equipment necessary for the proper functioning of its experiments.
The CERN site spans Swiss and French territory and labour laws applying to contract workers could get very complicated. However, CERN has agreed with both local authorities that only one set of laws – Swiss or French – shall be applied to a single contract, depending on where the majority of the tasks for that contract are to be carried out.
CERN calculate a return coefficient for each Member State to provide an overview of the return on investment each Member State is receiving. The return coefficient is the ratio between Member State's percentage share of the value of all contracts and that Member State's percentage contribution to the CERN Budget over the same period. They calculate the return coefficient for Supply and Service contracts separately; this is because Service contracts are for work that takes place on the CERN site. The UK is well balanced for Service contracts and poorly balanced for Supply contracts. As the UK is poorly balanced for Supply contracts this has an impact on the selection of companies for tender and allows UK companies to make use of the alignment rule.
It is important to note that when a firm submits a tender offering supplies originating from several Member States, or when several firms jointly submit a bid, the bid shall be treated as that from a poorly balanced Member State provided that the value of supplies originating in one or more poorly balanced Member State(s) is not less than 60% of the total amount of the contract.
CERN’s definition of country of origin is as follows:
Please contact the team if you are unsure what the origin of your products would be or to discuss the last major transformation of supply contracts.
The STFC Business Opportunities team works to improve the UK’s industrial return by:
The team also has a part-time staff member based in Geneva who can assist with site visits and introductions to key staff.
The High Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC) Project is a major upgrade to the accelerator complex to improve the performance of the LHC in order to increase the potential for discoveries after 2025. The upgrade will span a 10 year period and CERN have estimated the total cost of the project to be approximately 950M CHF (~£730M). CERN expect two thirds of the value to be awarded as contracts to industry, with the remaining third as in‐kind contributions and for hiring the additional personnel required. The upgrade offers a good opportunity for UK companies to win contracts that will help improve the return on our investment.
More information on the upgrade can be found here.
Presentations from the 3rd HiLumi Industry day can be found here.
Companies have reported the following benefits from their contracts with CERN:
The full report on the benefits of working with CERN is available here.
For examples of UK success at CERN and other international facilities please see our case studies here.
For more information please contact the UK industry liaison to CERN:
Last updated: 11 March 2021