Meet The Manufacturer Top 100 2019 Exemplars – 2: Michael Higgins

The Manufacturer Top 100 is a project that showcases the most dynamic leaders, young pioneers and unsung heroes working in UK manufacturing, all of which have been nominated by their peers.

Among the Top 100, however, our judging panel chose 20 individuals for special recognition. We call them ‘Exemplars’ – those who have exemplified remarkable leadership, daring or innovation within their respective field, and who set the direction of travel as we head into the new decade.

Michael Higgins, Senior Simulation Engineer, Ford Motor Company

Michael Higgins
Michael Higgins, Senior Manufacturing Engineer, Ford Motor Company

When Michael Higgins graduated from Cardiff University, having studied mathematics and physics and receiving a joint honours degree in both, he was, like many, unsure about what do next.

He took some time out to think more carefully about his career, safe in the knowledge his education would afford many promising opportunities upon his return.

He began working in an electric motor design company, which he says he enjoyed, but it wasn’t until he received a phone call from his former university, where he had been on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme with Ford, that his career really took off.

“I thought it was just going to be an informal conversation, but it turned out to be a panel interview,” he said.

“I was very honest and said I hadn’t really considered where my career was going to lead, but I was always very interested in manufacturing and process improvement. I got the job and went from there. I jumped into the Ford engine plant, just down the road from where I was living.”

Celebrating seven years of inspirational industry leaders

The Manufacturer Top 100 - No date

Launched in 2014, The Manufacturer Top 100 publicly recognises the most dynamic leaders and innovators in manufacturing.

Published by The Manufacturer, in partnership with Cranfield University, one of the country’s top centres of business education, the project is helping to dispel widely-held myths that vibrant manufacturing in the UK is a thing of the past.

Click here to make your nomination for The Manufacturer Top 100 2020, and to download a copy of the 2019 publication.

On his first day, a somewhat brusque engineering colleague sidled up to him and said Michael had “absolutely zero chance” of having any future career with Ford, adding: “We’ll give you as many transferrable skills as we can and then you’ll leave and go on your merry way.”

Michael Higgins 2
Michael’s innovative automation design has reduced Ford’s analysis time from 30 hours to just 20 minutes

Seven years later, and despite a fleeting flirtation with a career in teaching, he’s still with Ford and has risen to become a senior manufacturing engineer at the company. “I must have done something right. I was making big savings and changes to the way Ford were running their lines.”

Michael recently completed another project titled SymSim (Symbiotic Simulation) of which he feels most proud. He said its processes revolutionised Ford’s constraint management system, enabling the company to improve production efficiency.

“I completely ripped up the rule book when conceiving this project and there was some doubt whether it was even possible,” he said. “Rather than having people manually update the data that was going into our simulation models, we automated everything.”

“You look around our manufacturing sites in 2019 and there’s robots everywhere and everybody seems to trust them, and they do a fantastic job for us. The SymSim project seems to have done the same thing for simulation.”

Michael said SymSim has reduced Ford’s analysis time from 30 hours to just 20 minutes, achieved through a collaborative project with simulation software company Lanner, HSSMI and the University of East London.

In their own words

What is your favourite manufactured/engineered product?

The car. Having said that, working in high-volume manufacturing exposed me to some interesting pieces of automation that in themselves are amazing feats of engineering.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t doubt yourself. I spent my first years in manufacturing doubting whether I had the skills and background to be an effective engineer. Hard and soft skillsets are clearly important, but my background in mathematics and physics, and therefore logic, allowed me to approach problem solving differently.

Tell us something people may not know about you.

I love a challenge and learning new things. I invest in a new hobby each year and last year was skydiving. This year it’s scuba diving!

The Manufacturer Top 100 is produced in partnership with Cranfield University – one of the country’s top centres of business education, and low-cost talent partner, Trust Hunter Ltd (Hunter).