Interview: Rocket Man reaches 40-not out

Posted on 2 Feb 2012

What Bernard Waldron MBE doesn’t know about manufacturing complex missile systems could be written on the back of a rocket motor initiator (that’s a very small component). He’s also passionate about training tomorrow’s young engineers, Will Stirling discovers.

Bernard Waldron’s experience after 40-years of service in missile manufacturing at MBDA might serve as a metaphor for how UK advanced manufacturing has evolved.

When he joined Hawker Siddeley as a 15-year old apprentice in 1971, the site covered 120,000m2 and employed about 4,000 people. “It was formerly a propeller house and the biggest machine shop in Europe with about 500 NC-machines operating,” he says. Today MBDA Lostock – one part of the MBDA UK footprint covering principal sites at Stevenage, Filton and Henlow plus several partner sites – occupies about one tenth the area and employs 300 people, 100 of whom work in non-manufacturing roles.

There is no machining today and it is 100% assembly and systems integration, all signs of the leaner, more specialist, lower labour input business model that advanced manufacturers have followed in order to survive and thrive.

“We reverse-engineered the cycle of delivery while prioritising the valuable activity of the day, for example where a missile had to return to theatre in less than 14-days” – Bernard Waldron

Missile building is one of the most technically demanding manufacturing disciplines. From machining missile body housings to electronic PCB design and build – equipment which must operate in punishing physical environments – meticulous parts testing, fuel systems and munitions engineering, and integrating avionics and satellite navigation, few engineering disciplines are omitted in the design and manufacture of a missile.

An infantry weapon might cost a few tens of thousands of pounds while an air-launched cruise missile will run into the many hundreds of thousands, and requires many hundreds of skilled man-hours and complex supply chains.

Company man

Bernard Waldron’s career has covered every conceivable manufacturing related, engineering and operations management role in the company since then.

“I’m proud to say that I worked on the first air-to-air weapons that went into service, Firestreak and Redtop – in their repair cycle that is; production began in the 1950s – as part of my apprenticeship,” he says. “Hand-on-heart I can say I’ve had some involvement in just about every one of the company’s [UK missile] programmes since then.” Mr Waldron’s services to the defence industry were recognised with an MBE in 2006.

After a four-year apprenticeship in the 1970s Bernard, or Bernie as he prefers, progressed to shop floor technician then engineer, moving through test and validation roles, production project manager and then head of manufacturing UK, governing all Lostock operations before becoming director of manufacturing UK in 2004 (see Biography box).

At the beginning of his career he focused mainly on certification – test equipment, test policies and practices. Knowledge of manufacturing productivity was fine-tuned over time. “As I got more involved in broader business streams, I was instrumental in leading several transitional work programmes, the largest being the introduction of the Kawasaki Production System (including a Concurrent Engineering initiative) in 1990,” Mr Waldron says. “This allowed us to change our Manufacturing Execution System from being solely a traditional push-based solution – where the challenge was how to keep a machine busy – to more pull-based, where the focus is ‘no consumption, no production’. With that came Just-in-Time, value stream mapping, design for manufacturing and TQM practices.”

“We recognise the changing customer environment and that our position in that changing global marketplace is constantly under review” – Bernard Waldron

Bernie Waldron, Director of Manufacturing MBDA UK
Bernie Waldron, Director of Manufacturing MBDA UK

A four-year stint at Stevenage as production project manager of the Rapier weapons system gave him an insight into the company’s broader activities. “I developed a greater awareness of the full cost of delivery; end-to-end costs, total lifecycle costs and risk management, broadening my understanding of the business and company strategy.”

In 2001 he became head of manufacturing, assembly and test UK and general manager of Lostock in charge of about 400 staff in a variety of manufacturing and associated roles. “Again, the challenge was to look beyond operations to what was required by the company in the tactical deliverable; the role of manufacturing in the support of company strategy,” a task further extended when he became UK director of manufacturing in 2004.

“Simply put, my job is to make sure we deliver to our commitments and ensure that the customer community has what he needs, when he needs it.” A lifetime in the “front line” of missile manufacture prepared Waldron for the demands of supplying two military theatres simultaneously when in the winter/spring of 2011, the British Armed Forces were involved in concurrent campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya (see box on p23).

Out of the comfort zone: Dual Mode Brimstone in 2011

Bernard Waldron’s biggest test of multiple operations ball-juggling came in the winter of 2010/2011.

MBDA secured a contract for Dual Mode Brimstone missiles from the UK MoD for theatre in Afghanistan. Dual Mode refers to a recent modification which means the missile can operate a traditional, extremely high frequency wave – or millimetric – guidance system, as well as a laser-guided system.

The order required putting a family of standard millimetric missiles through a “technical insertion upgrade”, i.e. a performance enhancement. The contract was 10-months from agreement to first delivery and required a rebuild of the company’s procurement, manufacturing and scheduling practices.

Then in spring 2011, Operation ELLAMY – the codename for UK military operations in Libya – began to percolate into MBDA’s work schedule. “The MoD asked us what we could do to meet the needs of this equipment in, potentially, two theatres,” Waldron says.

Missiles have a finite air carry time. Afghanistan required the need to extend the life of the weapons; this new frontier meant further lifespan extension and capability upgrade to more missiles. In short, a full equipment enhancement programme was required in 10-12 weeks.

“We established a capability to both manufacture new equipment and receive returned weapons from theatre and complete either a repair or a refurbishment, where both were critically important,” says Waldron. The refurbishment of this missile was a new challenge. The variance in the condition of the equipment on return due to operational conditions in theatre such as foreign object damage dictated the amount of work required and how long it would take.

Clever scheduling was crucial to dovetail refurbishment work with the manufacturing work. “We created what we called a ‘war room’, planning the tactical management of activities and physical movement of hardware,” he says.

Brimstone Cutaway Missile
Brimstone Cutaway Missile

Art of the possible

With ELLAMY came a full reassessment. “We rebuilt the system, reappraising both the processes and scheduling from what had been a 10-month contract to a six month lead time with a one or three month turnover schedule, depending on where you were with materials – and eventually to a system that could be turned around in just six weeks,” says Waldron. “We reverseengineered the cycle of delivery while at the same time prioritising the valuable activity of the day, for example where a missile had to return to theatre in less than 14-days.”

Some missile consignments were refurbished and out the door in just seven days. Missiles were flown back to the UK periodically, without MBDA always knowing which flight or airport they would land.

The operations overhaul also included dovetailing the restructured training programme, which required staff to double their output week-onweek for eight weeks, while continuing to train new recruits.

Entente frugale provides the spur

Successful delivery in the pressure cooker situation of two concurrent theatres with zero delivery flexibility is both good practice for MBDA UK, and good PR.

As part of the wider declaration on defence signed at the Franco- British Summit in November 2010, the political leaders of the United Kingdom and France committed to the aim of achieving savings efficiencies of up to 30% on Complex Weapons within the next 10 years. MBDA, which is 37.5% owned by EADS and therefore also has a strong French component, has been tasked by the two governments to lead industry’s contribution to meeting this aim. The company is looking for opportunities to make more for less at every turn, and the Dual Mode Brimstone turnaround for ELLAMY/ Afghanistan certainly did MBDA UK’s lean and rapid response credentials no harm.

Can the Franco-British agreement affect MBDA UK’s operations? “I would say that we’re

Bernie with Dual Mode Brimstone
Bernie with Dual Mode Brimstone

ahead of the curve in that regard,” says Waldron, who is a member of the group operations directorate in the delivery of MBDA’s integration solution. “We’re a company with whom change culture is integral to our working practices, both in innovation and delivery. We recognise the changing customer environment and that our position in that changing global marketplace is constantly under review.”

Lostock and Henlow also have some unique capabilities within the MBDA group, which manufactures across Europe. Meteor, a new missile programme involving six countries, is being assembled, integrated and armed in the UK.

Ultimately, manufacturing efficiency, Waldron says, relies on in-house technical competence but also supplier capability and reliability, and the SMEs who supply MBDA UK operate more effectively when they are engaged and have both near and long term visibility.

Longevity realised

You know you’re visiting a company that takes manufacturing seriously when they show you the awards “corridor”. Filing down this room with Bernard Waldron at MBDA in Lostock, en route to the factory, I pass row upon row of certificates, from IMechE awards and apprentice internal awards to those recognising long service. Several active staff have served more than 40-years here. It’s a telling message about the need for a long term business strategy in defence equipment manufacture.

“Our products can have a working life of 25-years,” says Mr Waldron. “It’s imperative that we maintain the skills and knowledge to support that product over that period. The average employee age at Lostock – where all MBDA UK’s inert, or unarmed, missiles are assembled – is 46 years, while average service is 26 years. We have a very stable capability in terms of knowledge-base retention,” he adds. Busy apprenticeship programmes, meanwhile, top up the attrition as senior staff retire.

As to a long term view of supply, following a two-year joint assessment period, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and MBDA UK signed an interim Portfolio Management Agreement (PMA-I) in 2010. This agreement provides the overall framework for how the MoD and MBDA now works together. It captures a joint view of the UK Complex Weapons required from MBDA.

While projects within the PMA-I will be approved on a case-by-case basis, the PMA-I allows MBDA to operate under certain assumptions about potential future business that provides confidence to invest in the development of a coherent portfolio of weapons utilising commonality, modularity and reuse. Overall, benefits to the MoD of this approach have been assessed at some £1 billion over 10 years.

Skills champion

In November, MBDA UK won its second consecutive IMechE award for best partnership with education. It is a story in itself and Bernie Waldron has been a standard bearer in MBDA’s training agenda. He is on the regional board of sector skills council Semta and is a regional ambassador for the National Apprenticeship Service.

MBDA Lostock has a robust apprenticeship programme and a community engagement programme which among other things brings teachers of technical subjects into the factory to update their knowledge of modern works techniques, and the site provides work experience opportunities.

“We’ve also taken on 14-year olds on the commitment to a vocational NVQ Level 2 in Engineering, instead of a GCSE,” says Waldron. “Subsequently some have applied for an apprenticeship here and been successful in securing employment, but if some go elsewhere, as long as they go into a general engineering or science discipline, we feel that’s a responsibility that we owe our community.

“The average employee age at Lostock – where all MBDA UK’s inert, or unarmed, missiles are assembled – is 46 years, while average service is 26 years” – Bernard Waldron

Waldron is adamant that skills delivery mechanisms for companies like MBDA are worthless unless ringfenced for an appropriate period. “The need to maintain the four-year apprenticeship in our industry is crucial for training the diversity of skills and competences they need to deliver the complex products that we’re involved in. A retail and commercial apprenticeship that is only funded for 12-18 months is totally unsuitable for our business needs.”

He adds: “When I joined the company the apprenticeship intake was 120 a year with a whole infrastructure of training schemes and programmes; academia only supported the science behind the training. Now we have a greater dependency on academia providing the real skills and competency sets in conjunction with the employer as well as the theory. We need to get the balance right and ensure both theory and workplace practices are in harmony and are complimentary.”

Biography: Bernard Waldron MBE, CEng(CEI), FIET

  • 1971: Joins apprenticeship training programme – four years
  • 1981-82: Systems engineer, Manufacturing Technology Group
  • 1984-88: Principal engineer, Functional Systems Engineering
  • 1991-93: Department head, Manufacturing Systems Design
  • 1993-98: Production project manager, Rapier Missile and Weapon System
  • 1998 – 2001: Head of Manufacturing Business Management and Technical Resources
  • 2001 – 2004: Head of Manufacturing UK and Technical Resources
  • 2004 – now: Director of Manufacturing MBDA UK

Bernie is a member of the North West regional council of Semta and is a regional ambassador for the National Apprenticeship Service. He is also the MBDA representative on the committees of the North West Aerospace Alliance, Equal Opportunities, UK Skills, World Skills UK and Young Women in Science & Engineering. He is chairman of the Mount St. Joseph Business & Enterprise College Governing Body. He is married to Joy and has two daughters, Stephanie and Samantha.