The rail industry is adopting the 'lean manufacturing' techniques pioneered by the automotive industry. E&T visits Bombardier Trains' site at Derby to see exactly how.
There can beno more graphic example of the cyclical nature of manufacturing than the experiences of Bombardier Trains. Its Derby manufacturing facility is currently manufacturing more trains per week than has ever been produced in its history.
Production at the site is centred around three products: the Movia metro cars for the Victoria and SubSurface Lines (SSL), Class 379 Electrostars for National Express East Anglia and Class 172 Turbostars for Chiltern and London Midland.
Whilst production is currently at a peak, all but the SSL contract will be complete by the end of the year, so Bombardier is seeking to secure more work for the site. It eagerly awaits pending announcements about key UK rail projects.
The manufacturing of the Class 379 Electrostars takes place with two parallel lines running either side of a partition wall. On one side is manufactured the traction units, while the on the other carriages are created. Given that each train comprises four units – two traction cars and two carriages – the manufacturing works in perfect parallel. Each line comprises eight production stages in five production bays, moving from stage to stage every 21 hours.
'Split across the eight production stages on both bays are five parts of the vehicle; that effectively means there are ten parts of the trains covering both bays at one time,' Jason Ainsworth, Bombardier's National Express project manager, explains. 'We follow a simple process where we start with under-frame, roof and body sides, the structure is then put together and erected. The doors then go on, and finally fit-out, traction and on to completion
'At the height of the ramp-up, as we have called it, we were down to 21 hours' shunt, which means the whole line moves in synchronisation and moves parallel every 21 hours.'
The manufacturing process at the Derby plant mirrors that of modern automotive plants, with each bay kitted up line-side with all the parts and tools required. Parts are delivered to just-in-time requirements, either from the factory's store or direct from the supplier. Following usual 5S dictums (see 'Jargon buster' below) all tools are stored on shadow boards, and kaizen boards at each stage give clear indications of progress as well as information such as accident rates.
'All the material is delivered to footprints marked on the floor to just-in-time requirements and as that vehicle moves on to the next position we populate the footprints again,' Ainsworth says.
The lean improvement programme has been in operation at Derby for almost a decade, although there had been constant improvements and initiatives before that. 'It has been very effective because obviously lean is basically the elimination of waste,' Ainsworth says. 'All of the workers and managers have been on specialist training for it and we recruit people that have had specialist experience of lean manufacturing, particularly those from the automotive sector where it is prominent.
'It is a very good programme because it is very simple. It briefs the staff to understand exactly what is required; you have all your footprints and you can constantly look at the process to make sure there is no waste.'
When installing a lean culture in any business the keyword is 'engagement', and that is required from the top to bottom of any organisation; something that Ainsworth explains is embedded at Derby. 'There has been a bonus scheme operating if we hit certain production levels,' he says. 'We always make sure we involve the staff in briefings through the team leaders or production managers.
'Also, although it might sound almost a little comical, when we have hit the production targets on the programme we have rewarded the performance with small things such as bacon sandwiches on a Friday. It is just a small gesture but it proves that you appreciate people's efforts. There are always regular feedback briefings from the directors and senior managers to the guys on the line to keep them informed and also to give positive feedback if we've done well.'
One particular challenge that Derby faced was ramping up the manufacturing programme to meet the current workload. 'It has been challenging because we have had the target of getting 25 vehicles a week out of the production bays for four projects,' Ainsworth explains. 'This is obviously dependent on getting eight or nine vehicles off in a week for some projects. You need to make sure you have: all your material requirements; the correct manning; you are covering the right part of the day; and also building the product to the right quality and getting it checked by the customer is quite a challenge indeed.
'Previously we would have been doing about 14 or 15 vehicles a week and then we got up to a record of 24 or 25, and that was over a period of three or four months.'
Another challenge is a by-product of the current financial crunch, as Ainsworth explains. 'A lot of companies are struggling financially,' he says. 'Bearing in mind we do have quite a bit of product from smaller manufacturers, things like payment issues to them from other suppliers can be a problem. You are talking about hundreds of suppliers that are supplying to this site. You also have the logistical side of things, as a lot of these suppliers are abroad.
'Given that the workload can vary there are times when we have a lot of temporary staff, and there are local companies such as JCB who are offering long contracts now, so we also have staffing issues, which can be challenging. Also to make sure that you can still do the volume, receiving the material when you require it so you are not over on inventory, and still managing to maintain the high quality-levels has been challenging.'
Working with suppliers is a complex balancing act for companies trying to spread a lean message – needing multiple sources against the time taken to bring suppliers up to the required level. 'Yes, it is a balancing act, but we put a lot of effort into having those relationships with our suppliers. We have a small team in the field that support and visit suppliers where required. But it has been a challenge in the last six months, definitely.
'We have a team that focuses on supplier improvement and that is their job but we have also used consultancy firms where we go into a supplier and ask 'why are you struggling to produce?' and then implement the lean philosophies that we have incorporated into the way we work.'
The proof of the programme can be readily seen both visually while walking around the plant and from the increased production and quality statistics on view.
Design and engineering
Not only is the Derby facility a huge manufacturing centre but it is home to one of Bombardier's major design and engineering centres, designing trains for the UK and beyond. The centre has over 300 employees working in design and engineering.
Jon Shaw is the new engineering director for Bombardier at Derby, and he is responsible for managing one of the world's largest rolling-stock design teams. Shaw joined Bombardier following successful engineering roles at Bombardier's joint-venture partner for the Italian high-speed trains, Ansaldo, where he was global vice-president for engineering and he also worked previously for Hitachi Rail.
'Here at Bombardier we have the best core of rolling-stock design knowledge not just in the UK, but probably the world,' Shaw says. 'Our engineers here in Derby are recognised across Bombardier globally as being a centre of excellence for many areas, particularly high-tech aluminium car body design, cab and interior industrial design and human factors, product safety and material fire performance.
'Our engineers are not just working on UK projects, which themselves range from the new London Underground metro vehicles (including the first London Underground trains to have air-conditioning) to mainline diesel and electric trains. But our team are also undertaking a full package of design for the new Swiss SBB Double-Decker trains, and are approving the designs for the Zefiro high-speed rolling stock for Italy and China, as well as locomotives in Madrid and Light Rail vehicles in Melbourne.
'This follows on from many previous projects that have been designed in Derby or supported by members of the Derby team such as: metros for Guangzhou and Shenzhen in China, Trams for Strasbourg and Milan, support to people movers developed and supplied from our Pittsburg facility in North America, the ITINO Regional Train in Germany and the VLOCITY regional train in Australia : Our engineers also represent the UK and European rail industry on European >< standards development and in some areas lead those developments.'
One excellent example from the team is the Gautrain rolling stock in South Africa. This was successfully delivered ahead of the contracted schedule and in time for the football World Cup 2010, and has proved an immediate success with reliability in excess of 100,000 miles mean distance between failures.
'With our 3D industrial design facility we were able to allow the South African officials to come to Derby and experiment with different passenger environment concepts, including leopard-print finishes,' Simon Cran, Bombardier Transportation's industrial design manager, explains. 'This enabled the decision-making of the officials to be undertaken up-front while the design concept was fluid.'
Shaw explains that the core principle behind the success was moving to a functional rather than project-based engineering organisational structure. 'This enabled our specialists to be co-located to ensure that best practice was standardised across all projects. We have been quick to implement a systems-engineering approach, as championed by the organisation INCOSE. This approach reinforces the need for robust requirements planning and management at the start of the project, working closely with our customer and the approvals stakeholders to ensure the requirements are agreed and understood before commencing the detailed design.
'One further foundation is the focus on systems integration. We moved away from the traditional approach of sub-system work packages because rolling stock is now extremely complex. For example, the brakes consist of both electric (dynamic) braking and traditional friction braking, all driven and blended by software. The constituent elements of the braking function may be produced by different suppliers in different parts of the world. The integration of all these elements without duplication or gaps in performance and scope is therefore critical and in our opinion requires the implementation of a structured and systematic process.'
Integration is a common theme to the Derby approach, across the project lifecycle. An example of the integration across the site is provided by David Gilbert, the head of physical integration and installation. 'We recognised that the manufacturing and engineering operations need to be integrated as one, instead of working as separate entities,' he says. 'We have introduced a new 'Design for Manufacture' concept with joined-up engineering and production teams, and our engineers even undertake shifts on the production line.'
The first engineer to have a shift on the production line was naturally director Jon Shaw himself, quickly followed by his management team. This gave the engineers a greater understanding and appreciation of some of the difficulties faced on the line as a result of design decisions and will help to ensure that manufacture is considered in the design requirements going forward.
The latest success for the Derby engineering team has been the new Stansted Express class 379 Electrostar trains for National Express East Anglia, which commenced passenger service in March this year. 'We were set a very challenging timescale for this project achieving delivery of the trains within two years from Notice to Proceed,' Niall Simmons, the head of the engineering project management office, explains. 'The trains were not just a repeat order as they offer an enhanced customer environment including a first-class area, electronic seat reservations and Wi-Fi.
'To ensure we delivered on time we implemented a new strong engineering project governance process, which, through the success on the Class 379s, is now being rolled out across all Derby projects. The core principles of this governance process were short interval control, harmonised planning across all functions (e.g. procurement and production) and ensuring all the team understood and delivered on their commitments.'
Despite all the recent successes, the ongoing order book for the Derby plant is hanging in the balance. When the current crop of orders dries up later this year the manufacturing capabilities will be downsized if no further work can be secured. There is hope, however. The UK government is close to making a decision about a giant order for trains for the Thameslink line. The competition is between Bombardier, who would build units in Derby, and Alstom, who would manufacture in France.
It seems inconceivable that in the current financial climate the award would go outside the UK, but there is precedent for the awarding of major UK contracts to overseas suppliers. Earlier this year UK Transport secretary Philip Hammond confirmed that a multi-million pound contract for the Intercity Express Programme would go to Agility Trains, a consortium headed by Japanese train manufacturer Hitachi, who were competing with a consortium that included Bombardier. The company, and its lean credentials, are ready and willing. *