Tendering to CERN

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 £350 million annually on procurement. While 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 has broad requirements, from a lot of computing equipment to manage the vast amounts of data produced to cables, stationery, financial and consulting services and so on.

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. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (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 interested in working with CERN.

How to access opportunities at CERN

Selection of companies

It is CERN’s technical and purchasing staff who propose suppliers for business opportunities. It is therefore important for UK companies to build relationships with those staff, and the STFC business opportunities team can assist with this.

Companies can also be selected from CERN’s supplier database by the procurement service. To be selected, you need to register on the supplier database and keep your company’s contact information up to date.

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 through the UKRI STFC Tender Opportunities Service. You must register to receive opportunities by sector.

Procurement process

Price enquiries

Price enquiries valued between 50,000 and 200,000 CHF 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, which 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 through the portal: bids submitted by 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 are given access to all enquiries exceeding 50,000 CHF (approximately £38,000). The industrial liaison officers are able to suggest additional companies but they can only put a limited number of companies forward. The final decision on which companies to include is CERN’s, and they cannot always consider every company suggested by the industrial liaison officers.

Register with the STFC Tender Opportunities Service to be informed of current price enquiries.

The deadline for bidders to submit a bid is usually four weeks from when the tender is released. It is within this four-week period that the industrial liaison officers 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 industrial liaison officers can suggest additional bidders: firms cannot propose themselves.

Market surveys followed by invitations to tender

Market surveys

For requirements exceeding 200,000 CHF (about £150,000) a public announcement is made on the Forthcoming Tendering Procedures section of the CERN procurement website. This page contains information on 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 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 email makes available online all necessary documentation, including the cover letter, a brief technical description, a qualification questionnaire and other relevant documents such as drawings. If a company is interested in an opportunity, it is required to fully complete the qualification questionnaire and return it directly to CERN. Full instructions are in the cover letter.

As for price enquiries, industrial liaison officers are informed about market surveys and circulate the information to relevant firms in their countries. However, in this case, a firm which is interested may reply to the industrial liaison officer 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 to 18 months, and several invitations to tender may be issued based on one market survey.

There is a minimum of four 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 enable 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 gives the industrial liaison officers the opportunity to propose potential bidders.

If firms are planning to submit a bid in consortia, they are required to submit the qualification questionnaire together.

Selection of firms following a market survey

Only companies which have fulfilled the qualification criteria of the market survey concerned can 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 companies selected from each member state for both supply and service contracts 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 favourably as it is poorly balanced for industrial return.

Invitation to tender

The invitation to tender 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 four weeks from the 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, let CERN know of your decision through the e-tendering portal. This will help to ensure you are invited for future tenders.

Selection and adjudication of bids

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.

Alignment rule

For supply contracts over 100,000 CHF, 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 state, the contract will be awarded to that company. However, if the lowest bid is from a company from a well-balanced member state, 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 the poorly-balanced member state. If it disagrees, the second-lowest bidder 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.

Service contracts at CERN

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. To avoid complications arising from the countries’ differing labour laws relating to contractors, 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.

UK’s industrial return

CERN calculates 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 a 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. Return coefficients for supply and service contracts are calculated separately 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 is treated as that from a poorly-balanced member state provided that the value of supplies originating in one or more poorly-balanced member state is not less than 60% of the total amount of the contract.

CERN’s definition of country of origin is as follows for:

  • supplies – the country of origin is the country of manufacture or last major transformation (including sub-assemblies and components)
  • services – the country of origin is the country in which the contractor is established.

If you are unsure what the origin of your products is, or to discuss the last major transformation of supply contracts, email the STFC business opportunities team: tenderopportunities@stfc.ac.uk.

The STFC business opportunities team works to improve the UK’s industrial return by:

  • raising awareness of the opportunities available at CERN
  • providing advance notice of upcoming tenders
  • offering support and advice on the tender process
  • running targeted events to link UK companies with key staff at CERN
  • working with CERN to improve procurement practices and processes.

The team also has a part-time staff member based in Geneva who can assist with site visits and introductions to key staff.

Tips for bidding at CERN

If you’re not sure, ask STFC or CERN:

  • don’t make assumptions about what CERN are asking for
  • you are encouraged to speak to the technical and commercial contacts directly.

Only bid for what CERN has asked for. Any extras should be optional or possibly submitted as an alternate bid.

Award of contracts:

  • supply contracts: usually awarded on a lowest compliant bid basis
  • service contracts: usually awarded on a best value for money basis.

Country of origin:

  • supplies – the country of manufacture or last major transformation (including sub-assemblies and components)
  • services – the country in which the contractor is established.

Pick your preferred currency: £, €, CHF (others also possible – ask CERN).

Be prepared to make a very competitive bid:

  • there is kudos associated with being a CERN supplier but this is an ongoing effect rather than just an immediate financial benefit
  • there’s no guarantee of follow-on orders but you will normally be invited next time if no problems occurred, and contract extensions are not unknown
  • it can sometimes take several bids before the correct winning margins are found; the ILO team can help inform of the margin compared to the winning bid
  • you will receive payment within one month of receipt of the invoice, if delivered and accepted
  • English is a working language at CERN: all tender documents are available in English.

Bank guarantees may be a pain but are necessary. CERN seldom makes use of them unless the firm goes bankrupt.

Make sure you complete all sections of bid documents, including market surveys and double check the number of references required:

  • for market surveys, if you can’t quite meet all the criteria it may still be worth submitting a response but justify any sections where you aren’t able to meet the exact specifications. Please contact us if you’re unsure.
  • STFC is available to review and comment on the qualification questionnaire before you submit it to CERN.

Ensure you submit the information in the correct way as stipulated in the documentation.

Consortia are usually allowed (companies involved should complete a technical questionnaire together).

CERN’s standard terms and conditions are available on their website.

Respect the deadlines for price enquiries and calls for tender. You can respond to a market survey as long as it’s still available on the CERN website.

Regularly check the contact details (including email addresses) for your company in both CERN’s and STFC’s supplier portals.

A decline is better than no response if you don’t wish to bid; this will help to ensure you stay on the list for future tenders.

Download tips for bidding at CERN.

Major opportunities at CERN

High Luminosity LHC project

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 estimates the total cost of the project to be approximately 950 million CHF (about £730 million). CERN expects 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.

View the presentations from the 3rd HiLumi Industry day.

Benefits of working with CERN, and case studies

Companies have reported the following benefits from their contracts with CERN:

  • 38% had developed new products
  • 42% increased international exposure
  • 44% improved technological learning
  • 52% would have had poorer sales performance without CERN
  • 17% opened a new market
  • 60% acquired new customers
  • all had derived great value from CERN as a marketing reference.

Read the full report on the benefits of working with CERN (PDF, 546KB) on the CERN website.

Read examples of UK success at CERN and other international facilities.


For more information, contact the UK industry liaison to CERN:

Richard Farrow

Telephone: 07596 888 677

Email: richard.farrow@stfc.ukri.org

If you need help with export, contact:

Marie Gow (Trade Attaché, British Consulate-General)

Email: Marie.gow@fcdo.gov.uk

Visit the Department for International Trade UK export website.

Last updated: 16 May 2022

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