A week of 2 halves – and lots of penalties!
28 May 2021 by David Bott
I know I was at the “start the week” meeting, but I truly cannot remember whether anything earth-shattering happened at it. I do remember the TIC round-up, where we started to come to terms with the amount of work we are committing to do over the next few months to deliver an outcome that the Governing Board will back and will keep FL from being burned alive at a Number 10 BBQ! Neil and I had a mutual “Oh God” meeting and tried to start laying out the path to the ORETIC (try putting that into a spell checker!), then it was a pair of Funders Panels. After last weeks, rather process fixated one, it was nice to discuss the goals of the competitions and the quality and integration of the winning proposals. The young creative led a good discussion on the Metadata Production tools proposals, and had a brave attempt to try to bend the rules of engagement past a point even I was uncomfortable with, and Graham Bell once again managed to get the non-medical people in the room interested in the principles of stratification. I then had a quick chat with Debbie about my inside track at OAS on how KTPs can go wrong, and then about how we can integrate them more into our other support mechanisms.
All too soon, it was time to leave Swindon and make my way to the thriving transport hub that is Birmingham Airport and catch a plane to Belfast. As threats of high winds and ash clouds threatened to disrupt our travel, my task was rendezvous with Transport Man at the George Best Airport!! Sadly for my relationship with FL, it was a Boeing 737-500 that I was flying on (so he won’t speak to me for a few days!) and the landing at GBA was hairy – and the passengers gave a round of applause once we were on the ground. Transport Man was less lucky, arriving in a Dash 8, so his landing was even more bumpy! We made our way to the hotel and then decided to walk to the restaurant to meet with the Bombardier dudes. Transport Man had stripped to an informal shirtsleeves look and I had donned a jacket for the 10-minute trip against quiet strong winds! Dinner was a jovial affair, with tales of the heady days of DTI support for the aerospace industry interspersed with interesting discussion about the breadth of the Bombardier Groups UK interests. That said, the food at the Bourbon restaurant was nothing to write home about!!
The next morning, we caught a taxi to “Shorts” and met with some serious leadership heavies from Bombardier (who all said “hello” to FL), got a couple of presentations, one about the Bombardier Group and the other about the past support they have had from the Technology Strategy Board and what they have done with it. Then we got a walk around the “old” factory, and saw lots of metal bashing and joining and the assembly line for LearJets, Challengers and Globals. All very impressive. The story that a famous Hollywood director trades on the resale value of this sort of plane and the length of the waiting list by ordering a new one ever year and selling off the old one for almost as much as he paid for it shows that good business practice is a universal thread!! It was also interesting to hear of the customisation options available on a plane that costs $85m – as there should be! Then we went to look at the building site that is the new composites development laboratory. They have gone for a completely different model to the TICs, where the people are implanted by the member organisations rather than being part of the infrastructure. I did wonder why the Bristol composites centre needed a Belfast clone, but such is the joys of sub-national politics, that centres are already proliferating! Now, I like building sites as much as the next man, but I am getting a little weary of being shown so many of them with a promise of huge returns. I guess my inner cynic is showing again!
Then they took us to the new C-Series Wing factory and the day turned golden. To appreciate the effect, you have to know that I spent 1989 responsible for product development in Courtaulds Grafil, the original makers of carbon fibres. That introduced me to the quandary that has faced fibre reinforced composites for many years – the temptation to regard them as “black metal” and not a completely new material, with its own specific design and manufacturing challenges and opportunities. No more riveting composites but using adhesives, for example! The first room we entered was the composite lay-up room – a huge semi-clean room where the wings will be assembled. The initial technology is interim, but they showed us where the “Cougar” automated lay-up developed as part of the Composites Grand Challenge will be sited.
Then we walked through into the autoclave and next stage processing will be carried out. The autoclave – which was 8 metres in diameter and 20 metres long (I think) – was next door to the water jet cutting kit. The scale was what really impressed.
They then provided a sandwich lunch, checked that the ash cloud hadn’t yet closed the airport and took us there to catch our planes. Transport Man discovered the joys of Google-assisted plane-spotting (that you can put the registration into Google and find out way too much information about the plane, like maintenance schedules!!)
Wednesday was a wall-to-wall Executioners meeting day, so I was once again in Swindon. The morning was concerned with operational issues, where we swapped “what keep you awake at night” issues. Several of us are worried about our external communications, where we struggle to pull off a consistency of impact. All of us are worried about having the resource necessary to deliver on the TIC agenda without compromising our day jobs and I am getting increasingly worried that our general assessor pool are not necessarily following our cultural evolution into being an innovation agency. After a short break for FL to be given some Middle East related instructions from our new friends in Downing Street, it was back down to the “strategy” half of the day. We discussed what we would do with the output of the away day, and how to progress the roll out of the strategic objectives. We ended mercifully early and David Way and I ran to catch a train!
I was going to London to sit in on techpitch 4.5 – all part of out engagement campaign with the Shoreditch Massive. This event was just off Broadgate and consisted of 9 pretty uninspiring pitches (from 6 not necessarily commercial and 3 cracking but badly presented ideas). I got asked a lot of times how LaunchPad was doing, but had set up for the ICtomorrow Gang to text me updates, so we looked like a well oiled machine! I had a long chat with Baron Eric afterwards about why the Middle East has been added to the East End as the Downing Street fixation, then headed back to the hotel to run through the presentation I was giving as FL at the CBI the following morning.
Thursday saw an early start and the trek to Centrepoint. I had now been able to look at an agenda and saw the original invitation to FL (come and talk about your strategy, it’s the most important thing we need to talk about, you have 3 hours) had evolved into a 55 minute slot followed by presentations from the MTC and Tim Bradshaw. The joint meeting of the Manufacturing and Innovation Council/Committees felt a bit chaotic and disorganised and we (Process Man was there to hold my hand) got introduced in a yet another, different, way. I got a couple of slides into the presentation and one of the co-chairs decided that we would discuss every important slide. After 45 minutes and about 25% through, we abandoned all sense of decorum and started short-circuiting the questions. We were asked why we used a competitive process and didn’t just allocate the money to the best companies, why we hadn’t sent out the presentation ahead of time and just discussed the main issues, why we didn’t have more money – it all felt like they didn’t actually know what we did and how we did it. Really disappointing and moderately embarrassing for us, since I am sure the poor organisation by the CBI will never surface. Then it was a woman from the MTC, who kept going on about “being asked by the TSB to be part of the HVM TIC” and then described the previous management model of the MTC rather than the new model for the TIC. She gloriously told the assembled throng that the component parts would operate as they already do but we had allocated £5m a year to an administrative centre of about 4 people who would assign funds on a project basis (at least one bit of good information in there, but lost in the sea of inaccuracy). Then she focussed almost entirely on aerospace projects and wound up the guys from JLR and Nissan a treat. I tried to make some counter points, but the chairs didn’t seem to want to have a debate because they were running out of time. Process Man and I made our excuses and left at the break and retired across the road to Starbucks to open a vein (metaphorically speaking, of course).
I then made my way to Old Billingsgate for the BAe Systems Innovation event. I met with a pretty large number of aerospace/defence people we know and talked about moving into new markets, making appropriately encouraging noises, but was secretly disappointed by the almost complete focus on killing people on display there. I was interrupted by a call from the Met Office, who were worried that we were stopping them from starting a large CADI projects, so I called anyone who answered their phone to try to work out what was happening. All I could find out was that it seemed to happening to other projects – which wasn’t very cheering!
Friday was a polo sort of day, with a lunchtime meeting with JLR bookended by taking my car to the garage and having my teeth inspected! The dentist was by far the most pleasant part of the day. The JLR visit was with the guy who had been at the CBI meeting, so I had to endure a lecture on how bad our overall strategy was because it didn’t focus on automotive and then another on how the TIC strategy was bad because it didn’t focus on automotive – there’s a theme emerging here, notice? Despite the fact that “centres” had never been raised by the automotive sector before the TIC programme was announced, they are obsessed that it is the only new money in town and not having one means they aren’t on the priority list. We have a seriously and growing problem that our message about what TICs are (and what they aren’t) isn’t getting out there and too many others are making points which undermine what we are doing – and us as an organisation. As I said, the ultrasonic scaler, and the water spray in the mouth were a relaxing end to the day!