Ever heard of the saying ‘stick to the knitting’?
Popularised in a best-selling management book of the 1980s, it proposes the belief that a business’s interests are best served by using its existing skills to focus on areas in which it has experience: areas where it can excel.
Perkins took this very philosophy on board in 2017 with the launch of the Customer Machine Engineering Team (CMET). Recognising that customers’ engineering resources are sometimes limited, CMET provides the global OEM base with access to the knowledge, insight and experience that characterises the Perkins team – leaving the customer free to focus on its own strengths.
“CMET’s a bit like a rapid-response team that any of our customers can call upon when they’re faced with any engineering challenge that involves one of our engines,” says Rob Borland, CMET’s engineering team leader.
“Beyond the engineering know-how, an additional word that customers often use in a CMET post-project debrief is ‘ingenuity’,” he adds. “They recognise that what we’ve achieved – usually, but not always related to improving the performance of a machine – is beyond what their team could have delivered, had they been working alone.”
CMET has emerged from the years of machine development and validation perfected within the Perkins Global Engine Development Centre. It comprises a ‘team of talent’: engineers, technicians and business specialists, selected for their experience and skills. CMET’s modus operandi is to embed itself with the customer’s own engineering and business teams, recognising that working in collaboration not only brings out the best in people, but frequently delivers the best results, too.
“In business, collaboration can sometimes be seen as a weak point,” says Rob, “especially in respect of protecting intellectual property and other confidential or sensitive commercial data.
“So that’s one of the first things we put on the table when a customer approaches Perkins with an outline of what they’re looking for from CMET. It’s a meticulous process that goes far beyond a simple non-disclosure agreement: we’ve got secure co-working platforms and even separate storage drives that keep CMET project data individualised and isolated.”
While every CMET project is different, the common thread is the engine: usually a customer wants to re-engine an existing machine, explains Rob. “All sorts of reasons precipitate such a decision: more power, better fuel efficiency, meeting emissions regulations, complying with commercial obligations relating to brands or badges, improvements in manufacturing or assembly efficiency – CMET’s dealt with all of these and more.”
With issues of confidentiality addressed, a typical project will begin with a machine loan to the Perkins team. “This gets the Perkins team up to speed on the machine’s features, current performance and technical specifications,” explains Rob. “Our engineers and technicians need to understand this machine inside out. The OEM will share all necessary technical information with us. This information and data are kept on a specially created SharePoint only accessible to those involved with the project and those who need to know about it. We’ll use this information, in conjunction with the initial briefing given to us, to scope out a change and design plan.”
However, it’s the next stage of the process that everyone, at Perkins and the OEM, always see as the most important. It’s a tool that’s used throughout the Perkins business: the Technology Integration Workshop (TIW).
“It makes a massive difference to how well these projects work,” reveals Rob, “as it does in any collaboration between Perkins and its customers.”
Hosted at Peterborough, UK, the TIW sees customers invited to the site for a three- to five-day stay, comprising both professional and social elements*. As much a team-building event as anything else, the workshop allows both teams to get to know one another, and to understand everyone’s core competencies and characters, to allow the team to ‘gel’ as successfully as possible as the project unfolds.
Of course, it’s also the primary opportunity to lay down the parameters of the project. “Here is where the Perkins team first starts to shine,” remarks Rob. “Although the customer has already explained their objective, they begin to see how quickly Perkins has understood the problem. Often that will result in CMET being given free rein to make further changes or suggestions, with a view to refining and elevating the original proposed solution.”
Outcomes of the TIW include a full set of plans, project management and the integration proposal itself: the specific, the scope, the timeline and the key milestones. With this in place, CMET starts baseline testing on the loan machine, with one basic objective: how good is its current engine.
“Noise, fuel efficiency, power, performance, acceleration, consumption – pretty much every parameter bar emissions, as the engine will already carry appropriate certification.
“Often we’ll begin the design stage before the baseline testing’s finished. We run on a gateway process, using our preliminary findings to reach a stage where the design is ‘complete enough’ and the team’s confident we’re going to face only minor issues when it comes to build and fitting.”
The build stage is the most crucial, with components ordered, the old engine stripped out and any necessary modifications – engine mounts, for example – configured and applied. Instrumentation for testing will also be installed with the build, saving time and effort in the later stages.
“Data’s vital and we collect every piece starting from first-fire of the new engine,” notes Rob, “so we can follow a continuous ‘run-data-check-adjust’ mantra during the initial shakedown, before we apply the full A&I test and the machine’s ready for the customer to assess.”
It’s at this stage that the relationship established between the lead engineers in both parties becomes critical. “Everyone’s got to be confident to make the changes we need to ensure we’re realising the full potential of the project.”
Rob concludes: “There’s no hard-and-fast formula for what makes a CMET project a success, but the debriefing process – undertaken after every project sign-off – reveals both the level of enthusiasm and the degree of trust and confidence that the collaboration engenders, as well as the perspective of commercial value.”
*As COVID protocols permit
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