Tom Moore talks to those leading the charge in through-life engineering services during an industry partners day at Cranfield University.
Through-life engineering services is proving to be a goldmine that industry and academia have only reached the borders of. The game has changed for manufacturing businesses and the “make it, sell it” concept is rapidly becoming redundant in some markets. Instead, the management of a product, right the way through its life, has become the goal – it is an approach which allows companies to stay in touch with the value they physically create in their products for far longer, but also one which allows the creation of other, less traditional value streams.
Perhaps most importantly though, this approach can be highly lucrative. Rolls-Royce, the aerospace company which pioneered the through-life engineering model, accounted for more than half of the hefty £11.3bn of revenue it created in 2011 with the provision of services.
“Companies are no longer manufacturing companies but service companies” – Dr Juan Matthews, Technology Specialist at UKTI
Cranfield and Durham Universities, boosted by a £5m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), combined with another £5.5m in cash and kind from university and industry pockets, has set up a centre entirely devoted to the development of through-life engineering services. After a one year journey to secure the funding, Professor Rajkumar Roy, director of the new EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Through-life Engineering Services, believes that the key to its success will be the close working relationship between industry and academia.
There are ﬁve initial projects that have been designed in collaboration with the centre’s industrial partners such as Rolls-Royce, Bombardier, BAE Systems and the MoD to develop innovative technological and engineering solutions which reduce the whole life cost of high-value products and expand regenerative manufacturing. The projects are:
- Study of cross sector challenges in through-life engineering. Services feedback to design and manufacturing (six month study)
- Reduction of no-fault found (NFF) outcomes from maintenance on equipment with fault alerts through system design (three years)
- Characterisation of in-service component feedback for system design and manufacturing (three years)
- Improvement of system design process for whole life cost reduction (2 years)
- Self-healing technologies for electronic and mechanical components and subsystems (3 years)
Professor Roy says that these projects will feed straight into industry, “becoming a source of technological solutions, R&D capability, knowledge, skill and advice for manufacturing companies. The future of UK manufacturing is linked to our ability to earn additional revenue from high value products by offering them within a service-included contract.”
There has been an ears open approach from the centre to develop technology based on industry needs. Jeremy Lovell, predictive asset management director at Bombardier Transportation, played a central part in deciding on the projects and says: “The centre can play a key role in changing the mind-set of manufacturers from building to minimum cost, to investing in the R&D and design stages to enable it to tie twenty to thirty year service contracts into deals. We are selling into that long term proposition.”
Because of the heavy initial investment to design and make with maintenance in mind, Mr Lovell states that “through-life engineering must be enabled by the big companies but benefits will be seen down the supply chain because big companies need to nurture suppliers as they want their intellectual input and need their trust.”
“The future of UK manufacturing is linked to our ability to earn additional revenue from high value products by offering them within a service-included contract” – Professor Rajkumar Roy, Director of the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Through-life Engineering Services
At your service
For the customers of this new generation of through-life engineering service providers, upfront cost cutting is the prime attraction. Dr Juan Matthews, technology specialist at UKTI and an advisory board member at the centre, asserts that “for the customer, it may mean buying one tool, machine, or engine every thirty years rather than fifteen years.” And on the flip-side Dr Matthews comments: “The value of products could double or triple with maintenance and service so it’s really important for companies not to sell and forget. Companies are no longer manufacturing companies but service companies”
All very well as a concept. But supporting the kind of service model needed for an effective customer value proposition can seem challenging and requires considerable investment. Any company would want to be sure that the business model change will make enough money to justify the upheaval.
The projects led by Cranfield and Durham Universities answer this concern with a focus on reducing the cost of throughlife services by minimising man-hours on maintenance and optimising design and manufacturing techniques so that they account for service activities in future use scenarios. The self-healing and self-repair technologies being researched in project five could potentially save huge labour costs.
Commenting on another project, Richard Denning, principal reliability engineer at the MoD says that the focus on cross sector challenges “is already showing maintenance philosophy can be improved to deliver real savings.” Matthews emphasises this point, commenting that the cost savings will be substantial if introduced at the R&D stage.
He concludes: “The company that is selling the product benefits as it is getting more income and the user benefits as the total costs over the life of a product decreases. Through-life engineering will be a powerful tool to win more business. But not only that. If we don’t do it we will find that other European countries will have made the step and will be competing at a higher level than us.”
“Through-life engineering will be a powerful tool to win more business. But not only that. If we don’t do it we will find that other European countries will have made that step and will be competing at a higher level than us” – Dr Juan Matthews, Technology Specialist at UKTI
In the high-cost, high technology sectors such as high-end automotive, aerospace, defence and railways, the demand for product life enhancing maintenance is becoming an increasingly vital tool to secure contracts. Companies are no longer thinking short-term, about the income that will arrive now, but fostering relationships so that when the next contract is up for grabs, the firm is not a supplier who the customer purchased from 20 years ago, but a supplier with whom the customer has had a 20 year relationship.