BAE Systems, Electronic Systems, Rochester

Posted on 4 Jan 2012

Electronic Systems (ES) at a glance

Revenue: £21 bn (2010, BAE Systems group statistics)

Employees: 1,400 at ES Rochester, 13,000 in ES worldwide. BAE Systems group statistics: 38,000 employees in the UK, 100,000 worldwide

ES Overview: The ES sector spans the commercial and defence electronics markets with a broad portfolio of mission-critical electronic systems, including flight and engine controls; electronic warfare and night vision systems; surveillance and reconnaissance sensors; secure networked communications equipment; and power and energy management systems

ES Rochester core products: Sensory helmets, head up displays and helmet-mounted displays, active and passive inceptor sticks, pilot machine interfaces, fly-by-wire and integrated flight control systems, power and energy management systems

Customers: Serves a broad spectrum of commercial and military customers in the UK and RoW

Supply Chain: Involves around 7,500 UK businesses

When you think of BAE Systems, you think hi-tech. The company is one of the biggest names in UK manufacturing and has been at the forefront of military and commercial developments for decades, with a heritage stretching back to 1560 and the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey in Essex.

Each division at BAE Systems  has its own identity and specialisms, something which is particularly relevant to the Rochester site since it became officially known as an Electronic Systems site in July 2011.

Electronic Systems Rochester has a history dating back to 1795 when the site was managed by William Elliot. Rochester has evolved over the years following a succession of takeovers and mergers before ending up , leading to the site becoming part of BAE Systems in 1999 following the merger of British Aerospace and Marconi Electronic Systems.

All systems go

Darren Patterson, manufacturing director at Electronic Systems in Rochester, comments: “Electronic  Systems Rochester specialises in displays, active and passive inceptors and pilot machine interface flight controls.” The site changed from Platform Solutions (PS) to Electronic Systems (ES) in July 2011, representing a synergistic move by BAE Systems to merge two of its integral Inc-managed businesses, Platform Solutions and Electronic Solutions. The new consolidated business, Electronic Systems, is headquartered in Nashua, New Hampshire, employing approximately 13,000 people globally with engineering and manufacturing functions primarily in the United States, United Kingdom and Israel.

Another sign of bigger picture thinking and Electronic System’s awareness of the need for long term, sustainable success is Rochester’s aspiration to become one of a small number of UK companies to achieve a bronze award in the much vaunted Shingo Prize. While an electronic systems provider specialising in defence and commercial avionics may not be the first company you would expect to excel in the Japanese model for cultural and operational excellence, Electronic Systems Rochester has thoroughly grasped the concept that long-lasting success doesn’t just come from the training you provide, but also the culture within the organisation.

BAE Systems’ Eurofighter Typhoon integrated Helmet Mounted Display (HMD)
BAE Systems’ Eurofighter Typhoon integrated Helmet Mounted Display (HMD)

Every manufacturer wants to be a leaner, meaner machine – producing better products in quicker time. But after years of leaning out, Darren Patterson labels business culture “the final step” and he is in a good position to lead on defining what this culture should be like. Hardly the wet-behind-the-ears HR manager sometimes stereotypical as an advocate of ‘cultural engagement’, Mr Patterson is a former apprentice who grew up in the local area. He has now been with the company for 24 years and has worked on the production lines himself. Mr Patterson says that having the right culture enables staff to prosper. “We are moulding a culture where two things occur,” he says, “firstly, that everyone sees continuous improvement as part of their day job, we’ve already achieved a lot in this regard. Secondly, it’s not good enough to deliver your product on time, to the right quality, to the right cost; you’ve got to make it easier, quicker, cheaper and less prone to errors.  In short it is all our responsibilities to make what we do better.”

Breaking down the barriers

The Electronic Systems operation in Rochester has three shop floors, each floor made up of approximately 15 cells. A cell is a team of around 10 people working in specialised production units fitted with the facilities to assemble, inspect and test the different products they manufacture. BAE Systems Rochester has over 1,000,000 sq ft of integrated electronic and electro-mechanical production capacity, so when the company decided it wanted open plan shop floors, the sight of these cells stretching from one side of the building to the other now makes for quite an experience. Each cell undertakes quite different tasks and duties but there is a real bustle on the shop floor amongst staff that know each other and are not separated to social groupings by job title, role, or cell divisions. Electronic Systems Rochester emphasises the fact that each cell makes up a whole each is interconnected, something which is implied in the term “cell”.

Mr Patterson tells of how the shop floor used to be separated from the offices by a dividing wall before management decided to knock it down. “At first, people opposed the idea to knock down the wall,” he says, “but we opened it up and what we have now is an in-office integration manufacturing team (IMT), including materials schedulers and other roles, which can see the result of their decisions for their customer on the shop floor.”

Mr Patterson continues: “Over the last few years an area we have focused on is support overhead, trying to make us more efficient at supporting the shop floor. We have put the IMT’s next to the cells they support, meaning that they see the impact that each decision has and therefore support production in the best possible way.” Explaining the move, Mr Patterson says that the change in design is not just aesthetic, but a way of creating more desirable working patterns and behaviours. “It’s about empowering people to believe that they are in a position to come up with an idea and implement it,” he says. “If they can’t implement it themselves then there are systems we have in place where we can record it. Once a month a team leader from each cell will come and present to the management team to explain the areas they need help with and receive support to meet these needs.”

Culture club

The key message at Electronic Systems Rochester is that culture involves everyone over a long period of time, not just one or two cells. At the same time, Patterson points out that the Shingo culture model of respect and continuous improvement is behavioural, and as such is a journey, rather than a quick fix. “So far, 120 plus people on the site, and the site leaders, are on the journey and knowledgeable about Shingo,” he said, “and they would all be able to tell you about it in some detail.”

Considering how far the Rochester operation has travelled along this road Patterson says, “What we want to do is take everyone to the same place. Shingo looks at an organisation through a number of different lenses, such as frequency and duration, so if you want to go on a journey to operate in this way, a company has to demonstrate that it has been doing so for a period of time. It is only then that you can tell whether a behaviour is truly baked into the culture.”

Patterson has been pro-active in leveraging Electronic System’s Rochester considerable heritage to create a sense of continuity and context for cultural progress. “All staff are made aware of both the heritage and symbolic status of the Rochester site. It carries a strong legacy of avionic expertise and upholds BAE Systems’ long and proud company history of small to medium sized business utilization through its legacy companies,” he says, explaining that lean is deeply embedded into the company’s culture. Each new employee takes part in a Lean Overview, as part of their induction. Clive Simmonds, manufacturing engineering manager, comments, “this is why Shingo doesn’t have a start and an end, it is continuous. Even when all of our current staff are trained, new staff will always need to be brought up to date.” A fact that encourages cultural evolution and instils a readiness to sometimes re-examine or question cultural characteristics, ensuring they do not become stale or side-lined.

Since 2010 the company has developed its strategic goal using the Shingo Model. It has embarked on the next phase of the transformation journey which leverages the principles of operational excellence to help focus on cultural and behavioural aspects. Picking up on this point, Electronic Systems Rochester Operations function’s new mission statement, developed in 2011, is to ‘have an enthusiastic and empowered workforce that delivers effective products and services to our customers with efficient processes and minimal impact on our environment.’

The ‘knowledge boards’ that now line the cell partitions have brought a number of improvements, one example being the cell producing Integrated Display Helmet products. This high-tech product uses sensors in the back of the helmet shell to indicate where the pilot is looking. A missile can then be fired based upon the coordinates received from data in the sensors that feed algorithms such as speed and direction of both the pilot and the opposing aircraft. This has increased the pilot’s safety. Gary Chapman, team leader of the helmet cell, described one improvement that has occurred in his section. “There is a cable in the helmet that needs to be secured with adhesive. Marc Newman, one of our shop floor technicians, decided that it would be a good idea to replace the masking tape in the helmet with clamps. He brought some pegs and modified them so that the sensors are held down not just by adhesive, but clamped into place. The time it took from knowledge board to implementation was just one to two months.”

Mr Chapman adds: “The improvement programme operated within the cell, coupled with the training given to the team has helped us identify waste within our processes. It has empowered the whole team (even the quietest members) to take real ownership of the product and the build processes – finding new ways to reduce our build times and improve quality and consistency. It’s enabled the team to develop, gain confidence and learn new skills by examining our processes and implement solutions to problems that previously would have been passed off to other teams to fix. We are very proud of our achievements as a team and that some of the improvements have been adopted by other cells.”

Marc Newman, shopfloor technician (left), Gary Chapman, team leader of the helmet cell, (right). Both are based at ES Rochester

Marc Newman says: “I think it is excellent that BAE Systems’ Electronic Systems provide this opportunity for employees to put forward their ideas. It was rewarding to watch my idea go from concept to prototype to fully completed tooling to be used on all builds. I also received a ‘Recognising Excellence Award’ certificate in recognition of my contribution; this has encouraged me to look for other improvement opportunities.”

Staff not just a BIT-part

While lean and continuous improvement goals are now ubiquitous in many UK manufacturing firms, Electronic Systems Rochester is careful to ensure its programme does not become viewed as cliché or fad-like. The company measures improvement carefully and now has the figures to back up its pronouncements around workforce empowerment and ownership of improvement by shop floor staff.

The savings achieved for the four cohorts now completed is not yet known, but it is clear that the company’s investment in Business Improvement Techniques (BIT) training has been more than just a HR relations exercise. “A lot of our team’s improvements are individual, not management led, it would be difficult for me to pick up on a lot of the day-to-day improvements that have come from the shop floors,” says Patterson. He is confident that waste and time saving measures, such as where trolleys, tools and PCBs are kept, are things that could only come from the shop floor.

Since July 2010, when BIT training first started at Electronic Systems, there have been five cohorts put through the NVQ scheme. Clive Simmonds, manufacturing engineer manager at Electronic Systems Rochester, explains the training structure: “Essentially BIT is a two and a half day course, followed by coursework lasting 12 weeks. The cohorts, which are divided into teams, will raise and sort out problems in an area of their choosing. One of these will be associated with workplace organisation, where the teams will identify problems before creating solutions.”

Mr Simmonds notes, “A recent BIT team came up with three projects. One was based on workplace organisation and they built designated storage places so that equipment was quicker to hand and to increase the ergonomic lay-out of the facilities. Secondly, a project using the knowledge of everybody involved in fault finding. The team created a database to capture the knowledge so that people don’t waste time testing things or finding out solutions. Problems can now be answered via the database. The third project focused on visual management, colour coding the shop floor to save time on finding things. All of these recommendations were carried out.”

The sort of savings that are being realised:

Cohort 1 – Five projects with projected total savings of £2.2m.

Cohort 2 – Five projects with projected total savings of £0.506m.

Cohort 3 – One project with actual saving of £1.272m.

To date, 200 members of the workforce at Electronic Systems Rochester have been put through the course. “Our aspiration is for an additional 500 employees, on top of the 200 who have already completed the course, to undertake BIT training. With the Governments’ support, we receive some funding towards the cost of the programmes,” says Patterson.

The improvement projects undertaken as part of Electronic Systems’ training courses have done more than just benefit business operations and efficiency. Staff morale has also been boosted, a fact reflected in an anonymous survey in which 98% of respondents identified benefits associated with completing the BIT course and 83% of people who completed the training responded positively to the question ‘Are you doing anything differently as a result of undertaking the course?’ Quotes from course attendees include:

“I appreciate the opportunity to take part. It built confidence in the forward thinking management of Electronic Systems Rochester.”

“It’s been good to get the brain working again, presenting to a large audience was a first and has given me more confidence.”

The hot topic: apprenticeships

BAE Systems invests £73,000 in each apprentice over the course of their training programme. Most BAE Systems apprentices are between the ages of 16 and 21, with around 75% taking craft apprenticeships and 25% taking higher level technician apprenticeships. BAE Systems is one of the largest employers of engineering apprentices in the UK with over 1,000 in training, of which 95% are in engineering training.

The company’s apprenticeship programmes last for two or three years. Mr Patterson comments, “Our schemes currently in operation, predominantly produces two type of apprentice for the business. The Craft apprentice are on a two year scheme which includes a PEO ( Performing Engineering Operations) NVQ level II and a BTEC National will typically move into a “hands on” role within the manufacturing department, whilst the Technician studies an extra year completing an NVQ Level III moving through NC, HNC and occasionally on to a Degree. Primarily the Advanced Technician will enter at a Test level and will potentially move to a junior supervision or Manufacturing support role within a few years.”

BAE Systems has one of the highest apprenticeship completion rates in any sector, reporting arrangements show that the company recorded 82% completion in 2008.Once the apprenticeship is complete, staff are able to take up further study, such as HNC and HND qualifications. Apprenticeships and low entry level positions within BAE Systems are encouraged to take up training, many reaching senior management positions. Visiting the Electronic Systems operation at Rochester, it is clear that the company offers not just a job but a career. Between three of the key figures at Rochester alone, there is 58 years of BAE Systems Electronic Systems’ experience, Darren Patterson has 24 under his belt, Alison Marshall has clocked up 23 years and Clive Simmonds 11.

Unique, not only at the selling point

There is a growing demand for through life solutions, allowing manufacturers to develop long term sustainable business from products long after they leave the factory. BAE Systems is among the global leaders developing this business model and the products made at its Rochester operation are no exception.

Lewin Edwards, project manager at Electronic Systems Rochester, states “We provide the complete solution through the whole life cycle and offer our customers tailored sustainment solutions, ranging from traditional spares and repairs through to technology upgrades and comprehensive availability solutions”.

“The team at Rochester has a wide range of experience, expertise and a proven track record of delivering these solutions, utilising the global reach of BAE Systems to ensure that our customers needs are fulfilled in the most efficient and effective manner”.

Another aspect that makes Electronic Systems Rochester unique is its ability to find new opportunities and markets that could benefit from its technology. Over the last decade, Electronic Systems’ presence in commercial markets has rapidly increased, transferring its knowledge and technical capabilities into products and services that we use day in day out. Over four million passengers each day travel on buses that are powered by BAE Systems’ HybriDrive® Series hybrid electric propulsion system. The company was awarded a large contract by Transport for London and have the 230 HybriDrive Series powered vehicles in service across a number of other cities, including Edinburgh, Manchester, Oxford, Reading, Newcastle and Hull. The solution provided by BAE Systems has saved London United, owned by international public transport operator RATP Group, over 44,000 gallons of diesel and prevented the release of more than 450 tonnes of CO2 as a result.

Rob Lindsay, business director for the HybriDrive® Solutions business, says: “The transport sector offers some interesting growth opportunities even in these difficult economic times. We have developed a family of hybrid propulsion systems for heavy commercial vehicles named HybriDrive®, which have been very successful around the world in the Bus market, and which are now making their mark in the Truck sector. The HybriDrive® propulsion systems helps to reduce carbon emissions, and other harmful emissions, through reducing significantly the fuel consumption of heavy commercial vehicles. BAE Systems has delivered over 3,700 systems to the vehicle manufacturers around the world, including UK bus OEM Alexander Dennis, a company that has sold more than 300 hybrid Double Deckers around the UK.”


Keen to nurture growing confidence in the workforce, Patterson says a tight support network has been built at the Electronic Systems Rochester business. “There is a system in place where the Black Belts support the Green Belts, the Green Belts support the BITs and the BITs support the feedback team,” says Mr Patterson. The Site Wide Improvement Training diagram highlights how the typical levels of business organisation have been turned upside down by this approach.

Site Wide Improvement Training

The labels on the left of the Improvement Training diagram are the improvement activities and the labels on the right are the coordination teams. All activity across the teams is aligned and given coordination through a five year training plan. The project stretches all the way from the bottom to the top at the Rochester, Malcolm Ashcroft, general manager for Electronic Systems Rochester sanctioned the company’s focus upon integrating a new culture around the site, one where he says “Continuous improvement is improving all systems and processes at every level of the company every day.” Mr Ashcroft adds that “Results come because people are passionately engaged and driving continuous improvement.” The diagram is a visual depiction of a culture where those at the “top” are those on the shop floor, a culture where the importance has been placed upon engaging the workforce.

The improvement training diagram demonstrates three years of the five year integrated training plan. It demonstrates the steady increase in the numbers of staff put through BIT at Electronic Systems Rochester and the action the company is embarking upon to journey towards a better trained workforce, capable of identifying and carrying out improvements throughout all levels of the business. Mr Ashcroft says: “We recognise that a set of consistent behaviours through teamwork and transparency create a high-performance culture. We aim to create systems that allow our people to improve our processes closer to perfection.” The training plan is one way the company is doing just that.

There has been 15 Green Belts and nine Black Belts trained at Rochester so far. Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Training is aimed at training individuals to lead and facilitate improvement workshops and deliver improvements in business performance using specific Lean Six Sigma tools for more complex projects. This is a two and a half week in-house course developed in conjunction with the company’s colleagues in the USA.

Black Belt training is designed to develop key members of staff who will be able to work as leaders of six sigma DMAIC projects. The 16 day modular course covers the full range of six sigma and lean tools. This course is provided by Catalyst Consulting. These Black Belts work with Electronic Systems’ Rochester manufacturing teams and suppliers. The company is currently awaiting the accreditation of a further six Black Belts and 15 Green Belts are being trained during Q4 2011.

Mr Patterson says, “The training is just the beginning.  We needed to create the right environment for people to keep innovating and improving; to continue doing what they have learnt.  It is good to see this happen in practice and I’m continually amazed by some of the improvements that are being implemented by the teams.”

Industry projects

BAE Systems recognises that in order to create a constant stream of highly skilled engineers, the company must play its part in promoting the industry. The preservation of engineering talent is vital for BAE Systems, the company investing more than £50 million each year in education projects and skills development, as well as training its 1,000 apprentices. At the National Apprenticeship Awards in June 2011, BAE Systems was recognised with the Large Employer of the Year Award.

BAE Systems are leaders in helping to shape the right climate for manufacturing from the top to the bottom. Dick Olver, chairman at BAE Systems, sits on the Council for Industry and Higher Education and Nigel Whitehead, group managing director for programmes support, is commissioner for the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. Some examples of the company’s education partnership projects include:

  • A £1m donation over five years (2008-2013) to fund ‘top up’ science and technology for thousands of teachers at the National Science Learning Centre in York, part of project Engage.
  • A £1m partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering over three years. This includes sponsoring initiatives such as the Big Bang Science Fair and helping to support the Engineering Engagement project with the Royal Academy, providing training for Engineering Diploma teachers and funding for school science clubs.
  • A £2m donation to the Royal Anniversary Trust, which recognises and promotes the very best UK and higher education university projects.
  • The Company is involved in the government’s UK India Education & Research Initiative and is supporting a research programme linking Leicester University with the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.
  • Sponsorship of the annual Apprentice of the Year Awards.
  • Sponsorship of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers’ School’s Aerospace Challenge.
  • Sponsorship of The Engineer magazine’s Technology Awards for collaboration between universities and industry.

On point

While investing strongly in people BAE Systems has not ignored the need to support staff in their work through the implementation of enabling technology. To this end, and for improved efficiency in data management, Electronic Systems Rochester has recently replaced its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system with an Oracle system.

The new software allows for a new point of use supply chain strategy to be rolled out across Rochester. “Point of use is being implemented in all places where it is appropriate,” comments Alison Marshall, procurement manager at Electronic Systems, Rochester. One cell where point of use is currently being employed is in the manufacturing of the 777 primary flight control computer. A bin system has been implemented whereby supplies are made available when needed, another result of the new ERP.

Ms Marshall, says: “All the material needed to complete an operation is stored where it is needed; its point of use.  The onsite supplier will then manage that material through monitoring triggers. This has removed the need for inwards goods, stores etc, allowing for a far more efficient material management system.”

Marshall explains that the benefits of having on site suppliers include; accurate measuring of stock control and planning, quick response times to technical questions, less material handling and a streamlining of suppliers. Avnet supply parts for the PCB line, Fasteq supply fasteners and TTI supply electrical components. “With a fastener supplier on site, we went from 77 different sources for fasteners to just one. Fasteq have become the focus of all of our business, as long as it is cost effective to do so,” says Marshall. The change to keeping suppliers on site has led to a reduction in turnaround from the supply purchase to sale from 45 to 15 days.

Marshall added: “One of the projects for next year is to try and make the entire racking mobile. That will mean that we have the flexibility of all three lines, running any PCB at any time.  As we take them over to point of use, we will effectively create a car parking area. The materials will be identified by which project it feeds so that when the operator sees the trigger they will be able to go over and collect the relevant cart, wheel them up, load the machines on and let the job run.” Malcolm Ashcroft places emphasis on Electronic Systems Rochester’s ability to forge strong supplier relationships, saying: “We are continuing to focus not only on our employees but also on our suppliers. We aim to promote and support suppliers who practise inclusivity and promote diversity.