Ashwoods’ cunning plan

Posted on 20 May 2011 by The Manufacturer

Technology may only part of the answer to cutting carbon emissions but British manufacturers show how to be clever about making their technology count everywhere. Jane Gray relates the debates underway in Berlin at Challenge Bibendum 2011.

Michelin’s annual technology parade for the mobility industry is now fully underway and this morning industry leaders from companies attacking the task of creating more sustainable mobility solutions shared their thoughts and commitments with attendees. With particular regard to road safety and efficiency, participants in the Leadership Forum unanimously concluded that technology innovations are only part of the puzzle and that re-educating road users about safety and drive efficiency was, in many ways, a more taxing problem.

Clarifying Michelin’s own approach to this issue Jean-Dominique Senard, a managing partner at Michelin, said: “First we think about our employees…when we think about our target for zero casualties in the work place we also think about travelling…we want employees to travel to work and home safely. To support this we have developed an internal code of conduct and we do lots of training.”

With safety in the work place being a constant worry for many manufacturers, and a concern that some find difficult to keep under control, Michelins push to extend their responsibility for employee wellbeing beyond the factory is impressive. Sénard went on to say that this training was then also extended to the community around employees and to briefly describe Michelin’s global project to educate road users about road safety issues. This project is particularly active in India at the moment where car ownership has exploded in the last five years and continues to rise.

Of course a consciousness around road safety and responsible driving is paramount for its ability to save lives. However the delegation here at Challenge Bibendum have the pressing concern of fuel efficiency on their mind and it has become widely accepted that intelligent driving habits can be economically rewarding; cutting fuel consumption, reducing wear on tyre and much more.

Renowned logistics company Eddie Stobart has recognised the money saving capacity of intelligent driving to the extent that it set all drivers individual targets which take into account, time distance and fuel use. Drivers the receive a 10% bonus if they achieve these targets and yet Stobarts still save.

Chairing the Leader Forum Debate at Challenge Bibendum, Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament identified a necessary consideration of the ‘two Ts’, of technology and teaching in promoting road safety. But these ‘T’s are not mutually exclusive. Technology can be leveraged in support of teaching to raise awareness about how efficiently a driver is performing and to prompt more responsible behaviour. Speaking to Martin Kadhim, project manager at Ashwoods Automotive, a UK based manufacturer based near Exeter, I was impressed with the innovation and clear market understanding demonstrated in the company’s EcoDriver+ offering.

Ashwoods run a successful and fast growing business in converting Ford transits into hybrid vehicles. However during the recession it saw great reluctance among its customer base to make the upfront investment in full conversion technology, despite the knowledge that the investment would bring savings later.

Kadhim described to me how the company took a step back a thought about how it could offer something to fill this risk averse hiatus. The result was the EcoDriver+ which can be quickly and inexpensively fitted into any Ford transit. The technology not only measures fuel efficiency and simply communicates it to the driver through a system of green, amber and red bars which light up on the dashboard, but also has the ability to record consistent violation of efficient driving practises and feed them into a central database. In this way companies can closely manage their commercial fleets and driver competence.

Kadhim assured me that, while the hybrid conversion could save up to 25% on fuel consumption and logistics costs, the EcoDriver+ alone could bring 15% savings and at £150 for installation followed by a nominal subscription fee of around £5, Kadhim says the technology is extremely popular and is becoming ever more so as fuel cost continue to rise.

Ashwoods’ story is a prime example of how companies who understand their customers’ requirements and constraints can diversify to bring resilience overall and complement core offerings. This requires careful resource management and control. Kadhim himself acknowledged that in developing the EcoDriver+ management had to exert rigorous development restraints on engineers who wanted to further perfect the product. He explained: “They never stop wanting to perfect but you reach a point where you recognise that further work is going to delay introduction to a ready market and add cost to the product.”