Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit Keynote interview: Dave Holmes, BAE Systems

Posted on 15 Nov 2023 by Joe Bush

At day one of Manufacturing Leaders' Summit 2023, The Manufacturer caught up with keynote speaker Dave Holmes, Managing Director - Falcon Works, BAE Systems.

Unleashing innovation and collaboration in manufacturing. Manufacturing is entering a new era of advanced research and technology development, where customer-centricity, collaboration and sustainability reign supreme, ensuring that the manufacturing sector remains at the forefront of progress and innovation. We caught up with BAE’s Dave Holmes to discuss the themes of his keynote presentation.

Can you explain your role at BAE Systems?

I look after the Falcon Works business, which is our rapid prototyping arm of the air sector, looking at all technologies and air lifecycle concepts. I also look after ‘what’s after next’. We’re trying to build a team of people and an ecosystem where we’re encouraging people to be curious, and hopefully bring forward next generation solutions that makes the world a safer and better place.

Can you give us an insight into your keynote at Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit?

I gave some insights in terms of the collaborations we’re forming and how we’re going about developing new technologies. However, more importantly, how vital digital is, all the way through the lifecycle of products, and how it impacts on carbon footprint.

We’re starting to look at how artificial intelligence and digital data can influence the way we design, manufacture and support, and of course, dispose of products, and that’s going to be really important as we all fulfil our role in society going forward.

How has manufacturing’s approach to customer-centricity and collaboration changed in recent years, and how is it helping to reshape the sector?

What we’re seeing in the sector is a far greater focus between the customer and the providers. They are requiring shorter lead times, rapid cycling of products and technology development. And products aren’t being required to last as long.

Historically, our lifecycle of a product from requirements through to disposal could have been two working careers – 80 years – 20 years in concept and development, 40 years in manufacturing and 20 years in sustainment.

Due to the advent of technology, what we’re now seeing is that products are being cycled a lot faster within the defence space. Development cycles are going to start to be measured in terms of months and weeks. And depending on the product, they’re only going to be in service for perhaps only six months, certainly due to the conflicts we’re seeing in East at the moment.

Your keynote mentioned an ‘ecosystem of excellence’. What does that look like in practice?

Firstly, we have to recognise is that no one company and no one person has a monopoly on innovation and creative ideas. So the concept is built on the principle of better together. If we start bringing together small and medium enterprises, micro enterprises, academia, blue chip companies, and reach out beyond the normal sector boundaries that we historically enjoyed, we can start to create an ecosystem of curiosity.

People can then be given interesting challenges, and an opportunity to take something to market. It’s really important that we recognise that the micro and small SMEs have got their own IP which is the backbone of their business and what really what gives them value.

It’s important we try and find a way of stitching that together as part of an integration role, get things into the hands of people who need it, and really give people a way to actually generate revenue.

How can manufacturers ensure that they’re not only cultivating the right talent base, but making sure it is diverse as possible?

Diversity and inclusivity is key at all levels of the workforce. As a sector we’ve got to move away from the image and branding that we operate in ‘dark satanic mills’; our engineers and manufacturers – whether it be at micro SMEs, all the way through to blue chips in global enterprises – are operating in some of the most high-tech environments with the most cutting-edge technology.

So we’ve got to rebrand ourselves and that goes right back to school age children; we’ve got to explain to young people all the way through those formative years, that they’re enjoying their leisure and pastimes, through the use of innovation, and engineered and manufactured products, whether it be using their connective devices, PlayStations, etc.

So if we start to get people to understand what manufacturing and engineering is really about, they can then start to understand how it plays a role in society, and how engineering and manufacturing is really going to be the key to us having an effective solution against global warming.

If we start to win hearts and minds and bring them with us on that journey, we will then start to see the barriers removed; moving away from a male dominated sector. We really need diversity, we need new ideas and new people that bring a different method of reframing these engineering and manufacturing challenges.

What do manufacturers need to do to make sure that their innovation aligns with net zero strategies and goals?

One of the challenges that manufacturers have got is actually understanding what their carbon footprint is today. For us to be able to measure our carbon footprint all the way through the guidance on Scopes 1, 2, 3, we can characterise our businesses and do it in a uniform way, and then start to make effective decisions.

It will also allow us to push back and use that as a discriminator when making sourcing, partnering and outsourcing decisions that will allow us to begin to take a complete through lifecycle view of carbon footprint.

That will start to change the supply lines; it’ll force us to consider, as manufacturers and engineers, how we onshore/reshore and how we factor that into the equation. It’s no longer just about cost. Cost and capability are obviously key, but a carbon footprint that we can control directly, by creating local and effective partnerships, is going to be right at the forefront of how we do things.

How can horizon scanning ensure that manufacturers can sustain technological leadership?

I would encourage people to just be curious. We need people who are thinking about being futurologists; those people who are looking up and out as much as spending time looking down and in.

So, look out and start to think in a different manner. Look at adjoining sectors and what the hyper-scalers are doing. Look at how you can take all those individual ingredients, however small, and try and stitch them together to give you a commercial, economic and innovative advantage.

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