BLOODHOUND: The end of a truly productive year

Posted on 17 Dec 2013 by The Manufacturer

Conor La Grue, BLOODHOUND SSC engineering lead, commercial and product sponsorship, writes the Bloodhound entry of 2013, a year which has seen the project go from strength to strength.

It’s December and, as I look back on 2013, what is amazing is not just how quickly it’s passed, but also how much the BLOODHOUND team has accomplished. On the whole it’s been our most productive 12 months ever and there is a lot to celebrate.

I’m in my sixth year on the project and it’s changed a lot from when there were just seven of us in a little room at UWE (University of the West of England). The project has grown so much, especially since moving into this building in Avonmouth in the spring.  All the extra design resources coming online have had a knock-on effect on the amount of car we have been able to get into build and the number of people on the team working directly with suppliers has had to increase accordingly.

Getting it ‘right first time’

It’s fair to say that delivering the technical partnerships required to build the most complex land vehicle in human history has been a mammoth exercise in its own right. But it’s one that has been accomplished solely thanks to a huge team effort.

BLOODHOUND is, after all, only a temporary organisation – there is no volume production once the prototype is done. (Thank goodness, one is hard enough!) That brings with it its own challenges as we have to justify every penny and every moment of our time spent, and so putting systems and processes in place to make functions robust has to be balanced against the transient nature of the project.

We accomplish a ‘right first time’ high quality deliverable not through reams of structure and standard operational procedures in order to drive good practice, but instead by having the right people on each task and by bringing in the experience and expertise that can work within that minimum process environment. So our quality system is born from the quality of our people and the pedigree of our technology partners, rather than any defined system that we are following.

Technician David Tuffs checks the composite air intake

What does that mean in real terms for our partners? We know that it means we are a challenge to work with! With our requirements being utterly uncompromising we rely on our partners to help shoulder the burden of running in the way we must in order to “just build one“. We joke internally that in engineering terms there is an easy way, a hard way and then the BLOODHOUND way, as what we are doing is far harder than anything any of us have ever done before. This also means we are always learning, which in itself is one of the greatest rewards of being involved in the project.

Oiling the supply chain

On the commercial and technical front the huge number of technologies and partnerships that we have put in place over the last five years are now really bearing fruit. There is no time in the plan to develop a conduit to supply a technology. Instead, the plan assumes I have a cog in the supply chain machine ready to take on every component as it is released by the design team: that is now the case but, as with every good machine, those cogs need oiling.

Front subassembly machinings

In short, as the supply chain for the world’s most complex land vehicle has developed, so has that part of the project.

From design to reality

So how do we, as a team, make the engineers’ drawings and models a reality so the assembly team can deliver a car? This is how….

Partners and suppliers

Firstly, we now work with over 230 partners, suppliers and other companies working across disciplines that include space, aerospace, motorsport, marine, medical, industrial, defence and numerous others. Many of those are sponsors, but others are approved suppliers that do their best to help us on full commercial terms – and some of them are a little bit of both.

Commercially the buck stops with me on all technical partnerships. I have to ensure we deliver every component of BLOODHOUND SSC and I am responsible for the project management of all the components in build. However, with thousands of parts to make, no one person could make this happen and I can only do what I do because I have the support of an amazing group within the team who make the component build possible.

Supply chain management

First titanium skins offered up to the chassis

As the number of companies we work with on a daily basis has grown, so has the support I’ve needed to keep all those relationships moving. For example, one of my key partners is Overmarsh Engineering. Peter and Alex from Overmarsh have a huge amount of experience in the motorsport and aerospace industries in getting highly complex, one-off components manufactured. As the supply chain has grown, Peter and Alex have provided a proportional amount of support to me, working with our ever expanding partner base as well as bringing their own supply partners to the party – in short, a flexible and pragmatic solution to help us towards getting thousands of one-off components manufactured. Thanks guys!

Engineering liaison

It’s important to note that all of our design team have to make sure the car is one we can actually build and that the components are within the realms of possibility… even if many of the components go right to edge of what is actually achievable! We all sit deliberately close together in the drawing office to make sure we stay properly “aligned”. (Never underestimate the power of eavesdropping when it comes to keeping up to speed with the design and build of BLOODHOUND SSC!)

Sponsor liaison

Bell rockers

With so many of our partners working with us under full or part product sponsorship it’s vital we make good on our commitment to generate value for them. Step forward Tony Parraman, our head of sponsor liaison. Tony does an amazing job of working with a huge number of partners to deliver key resources to them to allow them to activate their sponsorship, so they are ready to go the moment the design for their particular discipline drops.

Component and sub assembly management

Luke Dee looks after all the one-off parts as they arrive in Bristol and works closely with the design and assembly teams to help define fasteners and fixings which are then used to put the car parts together. This is a huge task in its own right. Luke also makes good use of our metrology equipment provided by Hexagon Metrology and Aberlink Innovative Metrology to check components as they arrive, and weighs each part, thanks to Weightron Bilanciai Ltd, so we can closely monitor stocks using Factory Master and control what goes into the car build itself, while validating each component against the original design.

Purchasing, procurement and back office functions

As well as being the building manager for our 31,000 sq ft site here in Bristol (another huge job on its own), Anna Goddard is also part of the supply chain team. Anna looks after the bought-in purchasing function for all components and consumables which, at this stage in the build, is a full-on activity. In addition, Anna processes the supplier invoices as they come back into the Bristol site.

Getting suppliers paid

At the back office in Kingston, Tricia, Penny and Richard Noble work together to keep the suppliers paid and up to date. As the company has grown so quickly and the build accelerated, the management overhead for Richard Noble in running the whole organisation has increased hugely. The back office deals with the ever growing team that needs supporting, the huge number of sponsorships being negotiated, the many hundreds of suppliers on the component build itself and the overhead expenditure for the site in Bristol. A back office day starts at around 5am and finishes very late.

At this stage the project is a ‘seven days a week’ exercise, as you can read about in Richard’s project diary. Richard is a force of nature and is utterly determined to make the project a success – and we are all right behind him. It is a team effort that always has to balance the fact that we are designing, building and operating the world’s ultimate land vehicle in order to get the ultimate land speed record with the reality that we will then be disbanding.

Here’s to an even more successful 2014

So to all the team members, companies and individuals within the BLOODHOUND SSC team working with me to deliver all the components for the ultimate land vehicle, I say thanks for doing a great job in 2013.  And here’s to a great 2014 – bring on the New Year!