Too much time in the real world fills your inbox
12 September 2019 by David Bott
Monday started with the usual “start the week” although Fearless Leader was absent on a teleconference, so Cyrus tried to break his record for the shortest meeting ever. He failed. We then went on to another session to prepare the presentation for the Governing Board Away-Day. Finally, to complete the perfection of the day, we decamped to the Marriott hotel for an Executive Meeting that went on until just before 9 o’clock – and only ended because Fearless Leader had to go home!!
Tuesday meant a drive up to London, a short and unfulfilling visit to our new touch-down area, where wi-fi has yet to arrive. Luckily, I felt like a coffee, so went and satisfied my e-mail addiction in a nearby Starbucks. The reason for being in London was a meeting called by OSCHR to discuss what the UK medical community was going to do about 2 promises from the Office of Life Science Blueprint document. The first was about the establishment of a “super cluster”. Liam had been “socialising the problem” with all the attendees individually, so we all knew what was coming and were prepared with our support. This slightly took John Bell by surprise, and so the bulk of the meeting was over in half the time!! In fact, the second promise, about a joined up communications programme seemed to be forgotten in the general euphoria of agreement. Unhappily, talking to a couple of the others afterwards, we appeared to have agreed to different things, so who knows what will actually happen. The efficiency of the meeting meant that I got away early to my next meeting – in Peterborough!! The recent success of Caterpillar in both the HVM and LCV competitions had prompted John Amdall, their CTO, to invite Fearless Leader and I to visit. FL was up in York, so I got the factory tour whilst he had to make do with the dinner afterwards. The factory is astounding. I would guess it is about half a mile long and not insubstantially broad. It produces 400,000 engines a year and all are effectively customised into small runs. The core engine comes in various swept volume sizes but then in 3, 4 and 6 cylinder versions. The ancillaries are customised to enable the full engine to fit into the available space, be easily serviced and so on. I don't think I have ever seen so many computer controlled milling machines in one place – I gave up counting at 40! - and the assembly line is a thing of hyper efficient beauty. They have adapted the six sigma approach, and regard their version as intellectual property! The statistic I remember and need to check is that Caterpillar (and it’s whether it’s the UK or globally that I can’t remember) produce engines which generate about 50 gigawatts of power a year and the UK only consumes 42 gigawatts! The dinner enabled FL and I to build on our growing knowledge of Caterpillars interests and start to make new connections for them into our other areas of activity.
The next day, FL and I drove down to Millbrook for the first day of the national Low Carbon Vehicles Event. FL was due to speak 4th, so after Drayson had told the assembled community they weren't trying hard enough, I got to join the entourage and answer TSB related questions. Our “hall” was amazing, with projects that we have funded, so he got a good idea of how ubiquitous we have become in this space. I got a little chiding over why we couldn't “make” Intelligent Energy manufacture in the UK, but otherwise I think he is “content” with what we are doing – in this area!! I left his coterie when he decided to go rally driving, and started schmoozing for myself. I managed to get another ride in the methanol fuelled Exige (Heidi booked it for me) and a drive in the Mini-E. The first impresses with the ability of a modern car to hold the road at silly speeds and the second gave me an idea of what it might be like to use an electric car, since we got to do the hill circuit – last years Tesla drive was only on the main loop, so I never did get to go around corners in it!! When I got back I found Lady Claire had booked FL and I for an interview with the Manufacturer. I think he ended up feeling a little foolish because they have just published an article on the first year of the Manufacturing Strategy without realising that we were the main new money!! I suspect we might get better billing in his Low Carbon Vehicles piece. The “strange event of the day” award goes to a late meeting, with FL, the CTO of JLR and a senior Lotus dude, sitting in the long wheelbase new XJ which is the mule made under the Limo-Green project, discussing the design parameters for a range extended car like the one we were sitting in. A luxury car that does 120 gms CO2/km is a pretty good achievement already, but they think it can be improved. The evening saw a dinner at a nearby hotel, where Heidi brought together the Steering Groups for the Low Carbon Vehicles and Intelligent Transport Systems and Services Innovation Platforms. We need to find more ways to bring together the “components” and “systems” parts of the overall answer over the next few years and this was a good first step. The weirdness of the week was exemplified by the end of the day, which saw FL and I driving down the M1 in the late evening practising our lines for the CBI video shoot the following day.
Thursday started in London and I gave FL a demonstration of the power of congestion to frustrate, since it took us about 2 hours to go the 30 miles from central London to Mercedes Benz World on Weybridge. Once there, we took part in the first section of our “piece” in the CBI video – about the Smart Car. What we discovered was that although the 100 model 1 cars that Mercedes produced with Zytek were tested in the UK, the second tranche of 1000 cars were all due to go overseas – until our Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles Demonstration Programme was announced, when 100 were allocated to the UK – so the UK Mercedes guys like us!! As we sat and worked more on our lines, FL and I had the soundtrack of people doing their “Mercedes Experience” - that is it say, driving 6.3 litre (500 or so bhp) AMG Mercedes around a track and skid pan. It has to be said that they make a nice sound, no matter how un-green they are. After the filming, we sent FL back to London and Paul W and I drive down to Horsham. There we met up with the film crew at Ceres Power new(ish) factory. Again, this is where our investment has paid off, in that we supported Ceres in the development of their original demonstrator which gained them a contract with British Gas. They didn't want us to mention their latest successful project, which combines their basic technology with a smart control system. Shame. By now we were all getting slap happy and so the out-takes are probably worth burying!!
After such a week, Friday in Swindon seemed like a bit of an anticlimax. First up, I got a Steve ‘n’ Rob Holly charm offensive. I am still worried that the prioritisation has been driven by external needs rather than internal efficiencies, and I am not aware of ever debating them, but as long as we get all that is promised by Easter of next year, we will have made real progress – although the reasons why it has taken us almost 3 years to get a CRM system will always elude me. Next up was a visit from the Scientific bit of the Home Office. They were offering a secondment to us. This is increasingly code for another reorganisation wanting “someone on the inside”, but since they were offering to pay the base salary and the cost of getting to Swindon, it seemed chary to refuse. We made them promise that we controlled the project and agreed.
A slightly delayed lunch with John Beddington led on to my hour with him. I was obviously doing things all wrong because I can’t remember getting any actions from him – although I did make Andrea write down a number of requests for information and help from John!! The rest of the afternoon was spent wading through the 70 or so e-mails I hadn’t yet dealt with and which required thought and action rather than pushing the “move to trash” button. And then it was the weekend!!!