Making the best better, one step at a time
“The Meggitt Production System takes Lean to a whole new level,” says Helge Huerkamp.
“With what I know now, I could go back to consultancy and make a heap of money. But if you have the opportunity to make the best even better, why go anywhere else?”
In my time at CAE Inc, I must have done about 12 week-long Kaizen workshops. Pretty much every operational problem you can imagine came up and some great solutions too. But so often, we’d get distracted by other issues before we had time to implement. Later, at McKinsey & Company, we had our standard Lean tools and frameworks that we deployed in 3 months intense project waves.
You don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve got it, of course, but what I realise now is that we didn’t have the full 360° view. At the heart of the Meggitt Production System (MPS) is a set of daily interlocking meetings which cascade information up and down the business, escalating problems and good ideas so they get the attention they need.
Daily layered accountability (DLA), as we call this process, is the glue that holds the many, many components of continuous improvement in the spotlight. At the Meggitt site in Fribourg, Switzerland, the first meetings kick off in each production cell every morning. We run through the same rigorous agenda of safety, quality, delivery, inventory, productivity each day. Any issues are noted down, Living Pareto Boards are updated and anything that needs escalating is taken by the cell leaders to the next meeting. That starts immediately afterwards and also includes representatives from each function.
Using the same agenda, they review and pass on what they find and so on, up to senior management who get a higher altitude view of the whole plant’s performance. We start at 8.30 am and we’re done by 9.30am.
It sounds simple but these meetings have actually turned our approach to OPEX on its head: everyone from sales to compliance and delivery—including top management—is focused on the people who make the product. Poor process, bottlenecks and any other problems are outed immediately because these meetings make responsibility totally transparent. Each of us knows exactly what we have to do and how our work affects others. Making improvements and beating your own record becomes a question of personal pride.
Today, there’s not a single person who wants to miss a DLA meeting. And yet a couple of years ago, we didn’t even know what they were. Fully embedding the process has been hard work and took about a year but there was full support from the start, both here at Fribourg and at group level.
That meant the necessary resources were available and I could go out and find the people I needed. There are lots of highly experienced Lean practitioners out there but most are from organisations where implementation is at a very advanced stage. I needed people who could work in an environment where less was defined. There were only a handful I met who had the spark and energy necessary: one from a hi-tech Swiss medical business, for example, one from a smaller French aerospace businesses and one from Airbus.
A key focus from the start was performance management. I’d seen attempts at getting this right at McKinsey & Company but the tools we have developed here are really delivering.
The first is a monthly review of the one-year plan for the whole site, called SD-Matrix. Thanks to the quality of the data we get from the DLA meetings, we can measure where we are very precisely and fine-tune accordingly.
Five pillars sit right at the heart of MPS, namely, strategy deployment, organisational development, leadership culture, performance management and tools and methods. Progress is measured against set criteria defined across six levels. Before you can move up, you’ve got to hit all the targets across a whole site. It’s seriously demanding. There’s no automatic approval. You’ve got to prove you’re ready.
You have to prove your worth but if you’ve got what it takes, you can move on really fast.
We moved from the foundational initial phase “Red” to the next “Yellow” phase in March 2014 and all 600 of us here in Fribourg joined in the celebrations. We have since move on from “Yellow” into “Green” and recently “Bronze” phase, a continuous journey of improvement across the whole business.
Considering we were the first site to formally launch MPS in the group and the first half of 2013 was taken up with hiring, developing the right culture and reviewing our value streams, I’m proud of how we’re doing. During that review, we realised that although we had five shops on site, we only have three types of customer – sensors and cables, energy electronics, and aerospace systems. Reorganising on that basis meant physically moving 60% of our operations around the site and about 90 people. That was in September 2013 but already we’re seeing big improvements; on time delivery (OTD), for example, is up to 96%.
I believe it’s the unique combination of DLA and our performance management tools in MPS that sets what we’re doing here apart.
But there are other areas we’re focusing on too. Take sales and inventory operations planning. We have transformed our process over the last 4 years and now review our three-yearly sales forecasts monthly. We are reformulating how we translate forecasts into demand for the site and our supply chain.
The goal is to slash inventory by 50% but still keep improving OTD. We’re about half way there on OTD and inventory is down by 10% so, again, progress is good.
In terms of my own learning, I found the 12-month Oxford Leadership Programme hugely rewarding. It consists of three intensives—two at the Said Business School in Oxford and one in Silicon Valley—as well as project work focused on live strategic issues at Meggitt. We present recommendations and an implementation plan to our Board.
Both the content of the course and the networking have pushed me on far quicker than I thought possible and it’s a great example of the kind of opportunities there are here. You have to prove your worth but if you’ve got what it takes, you can move on really fast. It’s partly the culture but also because we’re growing fast.
Looking ahead, our journey to excellence with MPS will again be accelerated by the ‘High Performance Culture’ (HPC) program, which really goes to the heart of our individual behaviors and values. As MPS focuses a lot on the business, HPC is the glue that holds us together, makes us accountable towards each other and really creates an exciting place to work.
In your shoes
That’s where Garret Mertz, Vice President of Operational Excellence, will be putting himself before he suggests a solution to a problem—or, even better, giving you what you need to work it out.
The unsurprising goals of the new Vice President of Operational Excellence centre on improving customer satisfaction, winning the battle for quality and eliminating arrears. He won’t be doing this from behind a desk. He’s no auditor. He’s a hands-on professional who will promote initiatives with the biggest customer impact and help every business build capability.
Some employees may remember Mertz when he was on the team he’s now leading. He was seconded from Group to Rockmart, on a project designed to elimination variation in fuel tank manufacture. Since then, he progressed through the ranks of Meggitt Control Systems —the aftermarket-dominated business where operational excellence experts cut their teeth—until he was ready to turn around a newly acquired industrial turbine energy valves business in San Diego, California. Having successfully acquitted himself there, Mertz must now scale up his formula for success to cover a dozen businesses at Meggitt.
If this role weren’t substantial enough, he’s a fully paid-up member of MPS’s executive leadership team. However, he sees this as a fillip to his continuous improvement brief, not an additional weight on his still young shoulders. He explains, “By working cross-functionally with the leadership team, I won’t be siloed in manufacturing. I can make a bigger impact if I work closely with HR, finance and engineering, for example. I can ensure that everything we do has a positive impact on the business, not unintentionally undermining individual parts.”
Staying ahead of the competition
Roy Deakin worked his way up from apprentice to managing four facilities for Meggitt in three different countries.
“If you’ve got the talent, Meggitt has the technology, the variety and the training to help you open some of the biggest doors in aerospace.”
I’ve been lucky enough to get a huge new challenge every four or five years.
After starting as a mechanical fitter, I became a manager at 23. I then moved into maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and on into sales. That gave me a chance to get in close to the airlines and really understand what’s important in their operations. It puts your work in perspective too. Seeing one of our wheel and brake assemblies on an aircraft makes me very proud—I know what it takes to get a safe landing, time after time.
Engineers ask me about operations opportunities here and there are four things I say. First, we’re in aerospace, the most advanced area of engineering, and our technology is up there with the best. If you’re ambitious, second best is not an option.
Next, the variety of what we do is exceptional. When I started, we produced the brake, the wheel and a handful of control components. Now we have about 30 line replacement units, ranging from sensors and steering systems to tyre pressure monitoring systems. And of course, if you look beyond brakes, Meggitt’s range of expertise in extreme environment engineering is vast. If you have an interest in, say, thermal systems or fire protection or composites, we lead the field in those areas too. You won’t run short of new avenues to explore.
We want to lead in manufacturing technology too. Historically, our focus has been on optimising machines but in this business we can’t automate cost effectively because of low-volume demand. We can definitely work smarter, though.
Working with the UK’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield, we’ve developed an intelligent workbench which uses a laser light to guide operators on which parts to pick, place and fit for assembly and, potentially, for disassembly in the case of repair or overhaul.
We’re aiming for higher build accuracy, better quality and faster build times. And to make sure as much feedback can be channeled into better product designs, the workbench also has a built-in camera so assembly can be recorded and analysed later. (Find out about Meggitt’s factories of the future)
Seeing one of our wheel and brake assemblies on an aircraft makes me very proud—I know what it takes to get a safe landing, time after time.
The third reason for joining Meggitt is the radical change we’re making in continuous improvement. It’s one thing to have the best technology but you also have to be competitive.
Once a business achieves over 90% on-time delivery, for example, getting to 100% involves attention at a microscopic level. The Meggitt Production System (MPS) makes sure we’re always taking small steps towards better. It’s a comprehensive set of tools and processes that keeps us focused on how we personally can get a better product out of the door, no matter what our role is or how junior we might be.
Our starting point is that if you give skilled, intelligent people the opportunity, they’ll take the initiative and work out how they can do things better. And they’ll enjoy their job more, too. So it’s about empowering people to make the changes themselves. It’s not about managers telling you what to do. That may sound like common sense but it’s not easy to put into practice. You need a structure that is rigorous and consistent but also flexible. MPS comes closer to it than anything else I’ve seen.
The fourth reason Meggitt stands out from the competition is the training. I started as an apprentice at 16 and now I’m responsible for four facilities around the world—that’s approximately 500 people. I’ve needed a huge variety of training along the way—technical, managerial, leadership and personal development.
Of course I’ve felt overstretched at times and out of my depth. That’s often when you least want to take time out for training. But every time I do, I learn what I need to get on.
Take the Oxford Leadership Programme, for example. The calibre of the speakers throughout was astounding and our second week gave us the latest insights into Indian engineering, with a trip to Infosys in Bangalore—it’s the world’s largest corporate university and it’s like a slice of California in India. It was an extraordinary opportunity to learn about next generation engineering leadership. But at Meggitt, it’s not just people at the top who get great training. Our people need it throughout and we’re investing to make sure they get it. MPS has a number of tools focused on learning and organisational development, from problem solving and mistake proofing to continuous improvement techniques. And we’re using technology too. Take the smart workbench I mentioned earlier. It’s taking ‘standard work’, a key Lean tool in MPS, to a higher level, enabling us to consolidate and standardise the very best techniques from our top trainers. Younger operators using it can reinforce what they’ve learned using the laser guides—all of which frees up time to train more people and design and calibrate more intelligent workbench processes for brand-new lines.
So, those are my four reasons why ambitious operations engineers should join Meggitt. Two of them —state-of-the-art technology and training—were part of the package when I started. But today, the pace of change is faster, Meggitt’s range of expertise is broader (Explore our products and services) and critically, we have MPS. So if you join now, you’ll have even more opportunities than me.
If you’re lucky enough to come and work here, all I can say is fasten your seat belt. It’s going to be quite a journey.
Listening to the women in white coats
Jo Richoux and Liz Murphy build and test three-inch cockpit displays and sub-assemblies. The Meggitt Production System has put problem solving in their hands but for them it’s only the beginning.
“We are impatient for change,” they say. “Once you see what’s possible you get hungry for more.”
Eleven years ago when I joined Meggitt Avionics (MAV), shopfloor problem solving wasn’t easy. If your supervisor couldn’t sort something out for you, it could drag on for ages. Work-arounds and make-dos were common.
Looking back, I realise that we just accepted it. You didn’t think that people would listen to your ideas so you just kept quiet and got on with it.
It’s much, much better now. We have a new system of morning meetings which pipe information up and down the business, making it much easier to solve problems. It’s called daily layered accountability. If something can’t be worked out in our 20-minute meeting, it’s noted down on a big board which sits on the shopfloor all day for everyone to see. The problem can’t be ignored or forgotten. It gets escalated and it stays on the board and on the daily meeting agenda until it’s solved.
That’s made a big difference. I remember it being very hard when I couldn’t seem to get my point across. Now, once it’s written on the DLA board, I know that someone has to try and understand what it is I’m getting at.
In a way, that’s the essence of the Meggitt Production System (MPS). Working through a problem in a group, talking it out, guiding each other to a good answer. That philosophy is one of the key reasons MPS has been so well received right across the organisation. Even the sceptics have been won over quickly by the reality.
“I’ve found that as soon as people put the principles of MPS into action, they see the rewards pretty quickly: your day gets easier and you get more out of your life at work”
But we can still do more.
Absolutely. DLA can be hard at first. It requires a certain mind-set. You have to enjoy being more involved and you have to accept that it means more effort. Once you buy into it, you can’t be lazy. You’ve got to get yourself moving. That’s why it’s so important that top people in every factory get involved in workshops on the ground level. It gives us all a chance to learn from and inspire each other. When our Managing Director came to our meetings, I really respected her for it.
I agree. All the strands of the business are interlinked so for MPS to deliver its full potential, we all have to keep pushing. The more we contribute individually, the more we can improve. Of course it helps that it’s not change for change’s sake. It’s responsive change—we make the things we sell here on the shopfloor so we’ve got to have what we need to do it right. That’s what sells it to me.
I’ve found that as soon as people put the principles of MPS into action, they see the rewards pretty quickly: your day gets easier and you get more out of your life at work. It’s common sense, isn’t it? We’re at work for most of the day so we really should try to get as much satisfaction out of it as we can. If you can solve things yourself, there’s a lot more motivation to get on and do it.
It’s a tragedy if your ideas get stuck at the bottom simply because of where you work. That’s still what happens in so many places but we do this job hour after hour, week in, week out. We can see what’ll help to us do it better. We get some good ideas.
It’s been very refreshing seeing them implemented. Now the only frustration comes from wanting more change. Once you see what’s possible you get hungry for more.
Challenge and innovation at every turn
For more than 30 years, Margie Mattingly has been at the forefront of high-temperature accelerometer design. Focusing on Sensing Systems and working with her strongest team ever, she has developed a new product line which delivers world-beating performance at a much lower cost.
I remember the first time I saw an accelerometer in a 600°C oven. The door opened and there was this device, about the size of a walnut. It was vibrating on a shaker and producing a flawless output signal. This thing’s incredible, I thought. Even though it’s glowing red hot, it can reliably measure virtually imperceptible changes in vibration. These devices have found their way onto satellites, the space shuttle, and almost every jet aircraft engine in the world.
I was hooked on the world of high temperatures and I was in exactly the right place to learn more. A number of the world’s leading experts in this area worked in the building and I was fortunate enough to be mentored by them. Within a couple of years, I was overseeing projects. Later, I designed a number of sensors myself such as the first piezoelectric accelerometers.
These mission critical components can operate continuously from – 269 to 760°C and they have a lifespan of about 500,000 hours. Understanding the science to find the right materials, as well as developing the processes and assembly techniques that would allow these sensors to operate in such extreme environments has been a fascinating series of challenges.
Meggitt has developed many industry firsts in sensor design dating back to 1947 when the business was founded under the Endevco name.
One of the reasons for our success is that the company invests heavily in promoting an atmosphere of creative thinking focused on unique but practical product development. That’s also why we can attract such impressive talent: one of my colleagues, Bruce Wilner, recently received a lifetime innovation award from the Shock and Vibration Exchange. He has been with the company for 52 years and holds 30 patents—when you think what an achievement it is to file even one patent, this is a remarkable accomplishment. Our younger engineers aren’t doing too badly either: Tom Kwa holds six patents in areas such as micro pressure and acceleration sensors, some of which are under 0.1mm in size.
Today, being the market leader is still our goal. We’re focusing particularly on expanding in the test and measurement market, partly because in a recession customers monitor their equipment more closely to avoid costly maintenance and increase lifespan. To keep ahead, we’re always looking for ways to reduce overall costs and to add more functionality at low cost.
A number of the world’s leading experts in my area worked in the building. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by them
I wondered, for example, if we could adapt a design from one of our sister companies as a template for a range of low cost, high volume sensors with very high performance. Further inspiration came as I was replacing a threaded fitting in the sprinkler system in my yard which had been run over for the nth time.
I came up with the idea of a sensor pod which threads into a variety of mounting bases. By mixing a few sensors with different bases you can create 15 different types of sensor with varying specialisms. We filed a patent in February 2014 and we launched in September. We’ve now expanded the design’s modularity, allowing us to make many different products at a substantially lower price.
I think these developments are only really possible because of the extraordinary legacy we have. Right now, for example, we have the father of low-noise cabling coming back in to help us upgrade designs for our Swiss facility.
Overall, the strength of our current position is the result of careful but bold acquisition over the years and, today, our expertise is focused on centres of excellence around the world: aircraft sensor and electronics in Switzerland, crystals in Denmark, test and measurement sensors, cable and connectors here in California.
Expertise and innovation isn’t just about our products, though. There are interesting developments on the operational and manufacturing side too. Now we have these high-volume products, we’ve had to look at how we raise output because we’re expecting some big sales this year. There’s room to streamline and we’re having some great discussions about that now.
In all the work I do here, I can see a whole new generation of talent emerging and I am delighted we are laying down the foundations for tomorrow’s breakthroughs. I’m mentoring a very bright engineer and to help her and others that follow, I’ve formalised all I’ve learnt over the years in a training manual. I’ve also developed spreadsheets that can run the complex calculation models we need. That means new joiners will be able to take advantage of the foundation I helped create and then speed past my accomplishments to create their own.
The training I’ve had here has always been strong, from core skills like technical writing to obtaining an MBA. Within a year of getting that degree, I was promoted to an engineering manager and Meggitt has always allowed me to explore different paths – I’ve been programme manager, chief engineer and operations manager, where I was actively involved in compliance issues and classifications.
We have come a long way in high-temperature sensors since that oven door opened to give me my first view. We led the way back then and we’re entering a new phase of firsts today. We’re growing fast and we’re at a point in the evolution of the group as a whole where there are opportunities for energetic and determined engineers to explore more avenues than ever, in sensing systems and beyond.
There’s no doubt in my mind that if I was going to do it all again, I’d come to exactly the same place.
Lessons in Lean
From machining brakes as an apprentice up through graduate and post graduate assignments, Ian Pilkington went on to bigger and bigger OPEX roles at Toyota, Lucas and Unipart. Before coming to Meggitt, he was overseeing Lean at a cellular foam manufacturer with 42 European sites in 13 countries.
Kaizen, gemba, nemawashi, visual controls and all the other Lean concepts are everywhere today. But they’re not universally understood. Three years training at Toyota was the best introduction I could have had. It’s the Lean mothership and most of these terms were coined there.
I thought, lived and breathed them every day, learning how the pieces integrate in a total system. And then I got the chance to implement them across Toyota’s new European supply base.
Ever since, I’ve looked out for new places to put Lean into practice.
At Lucas Aerospace, I developed a production system and—the hard part—implemented it across 24 sites. At Unipart, I helped drive cost savings of £6 million across six sites, boosting employee satisfaction by 43% at the same time. And at Vita, I implemented a new Russian joint venture production site while also managing 41 other European sites in 13 countries. Each came with its own set of challenges.
Lean is often brought in for ulterior motives – to cut costs, for example, or help get a business ready for sale. At Meggitt, the top management want it purely because it’s a better way of doing things – for the business, shareholders and customers, yes, but also and perhaps most importantly, for the people who make the products and create the value.
For me all great leaders do best when they put their people first. Whether you’re a Churchill or a Ghandi, that’s my first principle.
So when I came to meet the operations people here for the first time, I gave them a good grilling. How serious are you about the Meggitt Production System (MPS)? Why do you want it? Because everyone else is doing it? Or because you want to turn things upside down and put the power to change things in the hands of those who do the doing? I looked the Group Operations Director in the eye and I felt sure he was in it for the long haul.
Today, the CEO is one of MPS’ biggest fans. He sees the size of the prize and his support sends a very clear message to everyone in the organisation.
You can get all the Lean tools you need from Google. But can you put them together and make them deliver? Very talented people from all over the aerospace world came to Meggitt because they saw an opportunity to take Lean to a new level – Operations Excellence. I’ve been impressed with the rigour and flexibility of MPS, right from the start. When you’ve got a system that good, growth is actually just a by-product.
But in the early days of implementation, there’s often a tendency to see Lean as an initiative. People think they get what you’re saying, they push back with a lot of questions. But when they see the results, that’s when the penny finally drops.
Very often, Lean leaders introduce some Lean tools here and there. But because there’s no fundamental, integrated change, initial enthusiasm withers when you hit problems. Hence we are focusing on holistic Operations Excellence Transformation, integrating Lean, Inventory Optimisation and Zero Defects. It’s the big picture where everything we do is linked together. There is no room for silos.
The Meggitt Production System is the best I’ve seen. We are here to help make it better.
Can everybody be the best at what they do?
Our customers want fewer, higher performance suppliers. To hit their ever more stringent quality and delivery standards, every one of us needs to continuously improve their game. The Meggitt Production System (MPS) is our solution.
Louis Chavez, Leader, Operational Excellence, talks about what he’s learned and what happens when you turn a business on its head.
“When I was an engineer at Honeywell in the ‘90s, I had no awareness of how the things I was doing, or not doing, had an impact on the factory. We’d design something for a Boeing or a Lockheed, help get it operational in the engineering lab and on to a few test planes. But then we’d move straight on to the next thing. It was only when I became general manager of Honeywell’s military avionics division, that I could see the whole picture.
Being able to produce the best technology in the world doesn’t much matter if you can’t manufacture it to the required quality, get it to the customer on time, and then do that day after day. That means you have to make sure that everyone from sales to shipping is aiming at the same thing, and that’s exactly what MPS does.”
On a typical day Louis will be on site, listening to employees, learning about their jobs and what could make them more efficient. New ideas of any magnitude excite the “Lean Master”. He questions and discusses improvement concepts in great detail to bring out the best in an idea.
MPS provides a great framework for people to innovate. There are lots of examples where people have flexed within the framework to develop the best application for the business. And these aren’t top down initiatives – look at Meggitt Archamps’ DLAs (Daily Layered Accountability: a series of interlocking meetings held at the start of each day which flow accurate performance and operational information up and down each of our businesses). This site has introduced an HPC (High Performance Culture) section within their DLA meetings to remind, discuss and apply HPC concepts. It was energising to see that Meggitt, through MPS, provides an empowering environment where employees feel encouraged to innovate and be creative.
No wonder we introduce MPS to our greatly talented Graduates on their induction into Meggitt. We want them to feel the power of MPS – but more importantly we want them to realise the power that MPS gives them – the power to question and hold each other accountable. It empowers them and all Meggitt employees to continuously innovate and continuously improve. That’s how we keep doing what we do better—through small improvements to big ideas—we continuously improve.
Taming the Barracuda
How do you stop a 20-tonne fighter aircraft coming down the runway at 200mph? Talk to Marc Greenshield, Engineering Services Leader, at our Coventry facility.
Whether it’s a 20-tonne fighter aircraft coming down the runway at 200mph or a large civil aircraft carrying hundreds of passengers, thousands of lives depend on our brakes every day. But I doubt many people know what’s really involved. Did you know that aircraft brakes can hit temperatures well over 1000°C, for example?
I get the opportunity to work on these issues every day. Our biggest challenge is to combine high performance and reliability with the lowest possible weight so the aircraft uses less fuel.
In 2004, Cassidian – the makers of the Tornado and the Typhoon – came to us with a new, top-secret brief. They were making a prototype of an unmanned aircraft designed to test reconnaissance, targeting and battle damage assessment technology.
We were only given what we needed to know. No more. We didn’t even know what it was going to look like. Our first challenge was to define exactly what Cassidian wanted. Barracuda, as it came to be known, was a test bed for new technologies. One focus was to replace hydraulic technology wherever possible with electric alternatives.
It was the first unmanned aircraft and the first electric brake we worked on, so inevitably a number of unexpected problems arose. Yet we were still up against a very demanding schedule. I’ll never forget the moment when we saw the aircraft for the first time. It was assembled in a remote location in Germany and it’s a formidable looking machine to say the least. I visited the site a lot when we were working on integration and the German engineers were extremely professional – as demanding and exacting as you might expect.
We were confident our product would deliver, however, as we’d been investing in electric braking research for nearly ten years. We built on our expertise in performance, weight and reliability as well as working to simplify overall systems architecture on the aircraft.
There were many tests in Germany and Spain as the maiden test flight approached. We didn’t know exactly when it would be – that was secret too – but when we finally heard the news, we were delighted.
Barracuda had successfully completed a 30-minute flight and, as we discovered later, our equipment had performed perfectly.
The attitude here has always been the same: if you’ve got good ideas and you want to get ahead, you step forward
As I have moved up the company, I’ve gone from working on specific projects like Barracuda to play a more strategic role. We’ve spread our design and manufacturing globally to reduce costs and extend our working day. We now have 50 Meggitt design engineers in our facility in Bangalore, for example.
That frees up our most innovative engineers in Europe and the US to develop the technologies and products of tomorrow. And our increased network also helps us find the best experts wherever they are around the world.
We’ve got huge opportunities for new graduates, particularly as we expand into nose wheel steering, landing gear control and tyre pressure monitoring systems. There are big challenges for engineers as the complexity of our systems and their integration increases.
I’ve spent my whole career here and even as we’ve grown to be a world leader in more and more areas, the attitude has always been the same: if you’ve got good ideas and you want to get ahead, you step forward. The support and the opportunity are always there.
On the Right Track
Winning public funding for key programmes is a sure sign our Applied Research & Technology strategy is on the right track. But to make sure we can give our customers even better advice on core technologies, Director of Technology Phil Walsh is piloting an advanced model of technology development. First up is the future of thermal management and fluid control in tomorrow’s jet engines.
Phil Walsh has aerospace form. He’s spent 35 years in the business, first at GE Aviation and then Rolls-Royce, where he combined business development and technical expertise. As a Rolls-Royce Fellow, he joined an elite group of around 30 of their most senior technical experts. He also helped author Gas Turbine Performance, the industry bible.
Phil joined Meggitt in 2016 as we began gearing up to compete for positions on the next cycle of new aircraft. Given our specialist technologies are on board more than 20 of today’s new aircraft feature and we want to improve our record on the next generation, there’s quite a bit of work to do.
But the signs are already promising. With next generation jet engines running hotter than ever to improve efficiency, the demands on heat management—a core Meggitt capability—have increased dramatically. However, our ideas for advanced thermal systems technology passed the first external test in the spring of 2017 when a key R&D project met the full technical approval of the UK’s leading aerospace funding bodies.
Cutting fuel consumption and noise are the highest priorities for airlines and engine manufacturers the world over. Engine fan diameters are increasing to produce thrust at the lower velocity required to do this. Nacelles are shrinking to reduce cowl drag. Power gear boxes are being installed on the engine’s low pressure shaft.
For Meggitt, the challenge is to deliver products that can cool double the amount of heat in oil while also being small enough to fit in the reduced space available. Nothing less than a radical improvement in volumetric efficiency will do.
Considerable advances were made in two earlier projects: Novel Integration of Power Plant Equipment (NIPSE) funded by the European Union, and a next-generation heat exchanger project funded by the UK government. The challenge now is to de-risk the technology and prepare for certification before full production.
The key to a good solution is an intimate understanding of changing customer requirements. In the past, Meggitt has been highly successful in deciphering customer needs simply by listening very carefully to what they need. And that strategy will continue to deliver.
But as Walsh points out, getting involved earlier in the decision-making process is a very useful additional string to our bow.
“If you turn up to see a customer with a blank sheet of paper to take down their requirements, you won’t get the best out of the relationship,” he says.
“We’ve got to show how a combination of Meggitt products, optimised in mini-systems rather than discrete components, will help engine-makers get the best performance from their jet engines.”
I would struggle to think of a company with this selection of complementary technologies
The answer, he believes, lies in advanced models developed by dedicated systems integration and preliminary design teams.
“With highly developed models, we can have better conversations and understand customer requirements in more detail. We can then use our expertise to influence new solutions at an early stage rather than waiting for supply chain requirements that are flowed down much later.”
The ultimate aim is to fast-track technology developments while customers focus on their own in-house developments.
One of the reasons for this diversity, Walsh believes, is Meggitt’s culture. “From engineers to sales and marketing and business development experts, there’s a real passion at Meggitt for collaborating. It’s the key to optimising the total value of our potential offer.”
Critical systems and processes within the company, such as the Meggitt Production System and our AR&T strategy, strengthen this collaborative culture with rigorous process that started out as highly integrative and are continually evolving to be more so.
“Our new approach to modelling is the same. It’ll be a big step forward in the way engineers across sites work together,” says Walsh. “They are ready. We just need to provide the integrated project team structures to harness their considerable talents and creativity.”
Of course, brilliant innovation has to be matched by operational excellence. Given the years of painstaking work and investment that go into new aircraft, customers will not accept new technologies for their programmes unless they are at specific technology and manufacturing readiness levels.
“More than ever, we have to prove our innovations will work. We also have to show we can make them cost-effective,” says Walsh. And with his extensive experience at two of the world’s biggest jet engine manufacturers, he’s the ideal man for the job.