Out and about: TM on the road again

TM's editorial team is out and about at a wide variety of industry conferences, debates and factory tours month in, month out. Let’s get a snapshot of the most interesting trips last month.

Embrace your failures

Jane Gray joins the panel for the BAE Spring Lecture at Brunel University.

BAE Systems sponsors this lecture at Brunel University, one of the UK’s leading academic centres for mechanical and aerospace engineering, every year. The aim is to challenge business and technology paradigms and engage teaching staff, students and local business leaders in forward thinking debate.

This year the headline topic was open innovation, and James Baker, MD of BAE’s Advanced Technology Centre, led the evening of questions and answers with inspiring insight into just why the defence giant feels it can no longer innovate alone to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Both in terms of commercial competitiveness and keeping ahead of military threat, James showed how BAE is looking for expertise anywhere it can in order to move faster than the opposition.

It’s been a tough change to achieve for the more traditional aspects of BAE’s business said James, and a lot of the progress made in accelerating and diversifying approaches to innovation has been made using lessons from Detica, the fast paced cyber security acquisition made by BAE in 2008.

It was a great privilege to join reps from QinetiQ and TWI on the panel that supported James in taking questions from the audience – though if I felt like the group naysayer. For while BAE’s examples of super high-tech innovation programmes and platforms, surrounded by enthusiastic boffins from a range of companies and research groups across a surprising collection of sectors, are very exciting, they are not what you might call usual.

Open innovation is not a full blown trend yet across UK manufacturing. The average firm still has trouble understanding if it currently innovates internally, what that process looks like, and if it entitles them to an R&D tax rebate.

But even so, the BAE Systems Spring Lecture afforded some excellent broader observations on the need for greater risk taking in order to flout uncertainty. It also highlighted why companies should take a more positive view of failure.

The positive impact of failure on an organisation which is willing to learn was a message hammered home repeatedly by both James and Miles Adcock, QinetiQ’s MD of training and simulation services. James even shared that he is trying to get BAE to start up an internal prize for the ‘best failure’ alongside its accolades for top performing employees.

@janefagray

Developing a real connection

Tim Brown remarks on The Manufacturer’s seventh ERP Connect event.

ERP Connect, held on March 20 in Northampton, provided delegates with a rounded perspective of ERP implementations; their requirements and benefits.

The day commenced with a forward looking presentation from Allan Behrens, managing director of analyst firm Taxal who highlighted the complex interaction between the desire to standardise processes for flexible, scaleable solutions and demand for personalised products and services that recognise individual clients rather than markets or even niche groups.

ERP helps companies cope with the complication this creates in manufacturing said Brehens and other speakers. Keith Nicholl, business improvement manager at KMF (Precision Sheet Metal), shared how ERP was essential to his company’s capability to introduce an average of 500 new parts into the business every month. Following ERP Connect, Nichols tells TM he is keen to investigate the relationship between ERP functionality and the principles of lean manufacturing… watch this space for his observations.

TM’s next ERP Connect event will take place in the Autumn.

@BrownNewsUK

Rolls-Royce's Wraith
Rolls-Royce's Wraith

Wraith revealed

Harry Dalton swans up to the launch of the Rolls-Royce Wraith in style.

After enduring delays with Southern Rail it was a more than usually soothing treat to be collected from Chichester station by a Rolls-Royce Ghost – but better was yet in store!

It takes something special to get me out of bed at 4:30am and the unveiling of just the third new model from Rolls-Royce Motor Cars since it became a subsidiary of BMW in 1998 definitely qualifies.

The Wraith is a coupé based on the popular Ghost saloon and will share that car’s production line at Rolls-Royce’s ten year old factory. The company will not begin full scale production until the autumn with customers receiving their cars by the end of the year.

Jörg Bause, the director of manufacturing for Rolls-Royce, unveiled a working prototype of the car in the company’s inner sanctum – the analysis area, where new cars are put through their paces.

Rolls-Royce has sold record numbers of cars in the last three years – 3,500 were sold in 2012 alone. But Mr Bause says the luxury car maker is holding true to its aura of exclusivity in the midst of this relative boom. “We are not driven by volume. Rolls-Royce will never enter the mass luxury business and our cars must be a precious drop in the automotive ocean,” he said.

Rolls-Royce employs 800 highly skilled workers at the final assembly factory at Goodwood, where almost all processes are still done by hand.

@MrHarryDalton

A Lockheed motion rig
A Lockheed motion rig

Take heed from Lockheed

It was about time that TM visited Lockheed Martin UK’s Ampthill site, the company’s largest British manufacturing facility. Harry Dalton gets up to speed with the defence manufacturers activities.

The UK is the second largest market and base of operations in the world for Lockheed Martin (LM) which employs 2,500 people around the country.

The company maintains the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent, supplies computer systems for the National Air Traffic Service and helps sort 60 million letters a day for the Royal Mail.

One of the projects that I was allowed to see on the highly classified site was the newly renovated systems integration lab where a team of engineers is currently carrying out a £1bn contract to upgrade the Warrior armoured fighting vehicle for the British Army.

Alan McCormick, Vice President and MD, Lockheed Martin UK
Alan McCormick, Vice President and MD, Lockheed Martin UK

“The UK should use any capability that we can from where ever we can get it and leverage other people’s money because we are only a small country”Alan McCormick, Vice President and MD, Lockheed Martin UK

The contract, LM UK’s biggest, saw £642m directly awarded to Ampthill and should be completed by 2018 with the Warrior in service until 2040. The lab features a £1m rig capable of testing 8 tonnes of turret, simulating difficult to replicate real world conditions.

Lockheed Martin UK is now using its vehicle turret systems expertise to target overseas markets in Europe and the Middle East, drawing on this knowledge which it hopes will provide further businesses opportunities for its extensive UK land systems supplier base, which numbers some 800 companies.

Part of LM UK’s business model is based on bringing United States-developed technology into the UK. Alan McCormick, vice president and MD at LM UK said: “The UK should use any capability that we can from wherever we can get it and leverage other people’s money because we are only a small country.

“We are not just a shop window like some subsidiaries. I’ve sat in classified meetings where it is clear that the UK is leveraging far more into the US than the other way round. We are exporting higher level UK technology into the US.”

@MrHarryDalton