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FACTORY BLOG – GRAHAM MILLER

FACTORY BLOG – GRAHAM MILLER

Welcome to Brackley! With the factory blog, a member of the team will take you onboard for a week and give you an insight into their duties! This week, your host will be Graham Miller, Director of Wind Tunnel Operations and Special Projects.

Friday 4 June

I like to keep pockets of free time on Fridays to catch up with paperwork, prepare draft agendas for the following week’s meetings and complete my activity report. This is the plan but inevitably my free time gets consumed by other things. So today, I am determined as ever to achieve everything that I have planned!

In the office, my desk is located opposite Shay Campbell, our Factory Manager. Shay is one of my direct reports and we enjoy a very close working relationship. Our facility covers a 15-acre site and we have over 24,000 sq. ft of accommodation so unsurprisingly our factory maintenance team is always busy. Today Shay and his guys are supporting the air freight pack-up for the Canadian Grand Prix.

Like most UK-based Formula One Teams, we are accredited with ‘Known Consignor’ status by the Government’s Department of Transport. This means that air freight leaving our Brackley site must comply with strict conditions which are essentially the same as those found on the secure side of UK airports. Over 90 staff have received training under the UK National Air Cargo Training Programme, and 10 of those staff have undergone higher-level certification training. Shay is one of those members and today he is helping to facilitate the pack-up process. The stringent controls mean that staff members who have not been trained cannot enter the restricted areas where the pack-up is taking place and it means that all visitors must be escorted from the gatehouse building to and from the reception area. The pack-up process will take most of the day with the freight due to leave on Saturday.

On the wind tunnel operations side, Mark Neal (our wind tunnel manager) is busy preparing for a model change which is due to take place at 6pm this evening. The planned change will require engineering support and it is likely that we will have crews working through the night. There will be a further model change on Sunday as we resume developments for the British and German Grand Prix. The week so far in the tunnel has been productive with very little in the way of operational issues. I firmly believe that we have one of the best aerodynamic departments in Formula One in this respect.

Today is also the day when we see the return of the guys from the weekend wind tunnel shifts. This crew spans Friday through Monday and enables us to keep the wind tunnel operational 24/7. Mark and his team will ensure that they are up to speed with any procedural updates and are briefed for the weekend’s activities. With the planned running schedule, we are expecting a busy weekend!

One of my additional responsibilities covers the Pattern Shop. Danny Kerwood, our Senior Manufacturing Manager, looks after this area as well as overseeing the manufacturing functions within Aerodynamics itself. The Pattern Shop is currently making bodywork patterns for the European Grand Prix and also machining carbon fibre wing and suspension components. One of the great things about being part of the team, and particularly part of the aerodynamics function, is that you always know what’s coming on the car! It is a very exciting place to be.

This afternoon, I have a meeting with our landlord and other representatives of the site management committee. We are the sole tenant onsite and meet the landlord on a quarterly basis to keep each other informed of any issues and planned developments. We plan to present our ideas for refurbishing the rest rooms within our main building as well as discuss a number of smaller repairs and improvements that are underway.

As it turned it, I didn’t keep all of my free time today which has meant pushing some tasks into the weekend. This is something that you get used! Our world is one in which speed is of the essence and every other team is constantly improving their cars and trying to do this quicker than us. And within the aerodynamics department, it is a world where the timescales to complete complex and mission-critical tasks are always pressured and rarely more than a small fraction of the ideal. But it is something that we all love and what is apparent to me is that the seemingly impossible is achieved on a routine basis.

It has been a pleasure participating in this blog and I hope that I have given you a little more insight into the goings on within MERCEDES GP PETRONAS!

Thursday 3 June

Another nice sunny morning in Brackley! My first meeting today was the daily production review meeting. We typically have a forward ‘order book’ of one week and good communication between design and production is vital to maximise what we can deliver. Our manufacturing facilities at the factory include three and five axis machining, carbon fibre composites and rapid prototyping. Our priority is aerodynamic development but where capacity exists, we utilise this for race car production parts or project work.

You may recall that yesterday we were working on a special project involving the creation of an ice cream bicycle. This is progressing well and the remaining parts from Mercedes-Benz should arrive on Friday morning. We are hoping to be able to assemble our first tricycle and mount the large freeze box over the weekend. After road trials, which hopefully will be successful, we will paint the modified parts. The planned race, in which five of our tricycles will be competing, is due to take place in 10 days time.

We have been lucky to secure some internal machining capacity to make the last few bits for the bikes. After discussion in our daily production review meeting this morning, a window of opportunity was apparent, so we grabbed it!

The wind tunnel is running well this week and we are working on developments for upcoming races plus next year's car. Most of our wind tunnel development is carried out using a 50% scale model that is manufactured and developed in-house. The model is very fluid and on average, we make around 750 parts per week. There are no peaks and troughs to our workload… we are flat out all of the time!

On the factory side, we are busy supporting the freight turnaround from Turkey to Montreal. Most of the trucks are due back tomorrow morning and the freight has to leave for Canada on Saturday evening. So as you can imagine, this is a major operation and we will expand on this tomorrow!

Wednesday 2 June

I usually get to work around 7.45am, particularly on Wednesdays as we have a 8.30am performance review with Ross. Loic Bigois, our Head of Aerodynamics, joins us in the meeting for a review of where we are in terms of car development and operational performance. Loic and I work very closely together as our wind tunnel environment is relentless and very fluid so we have to be highly adaptable and able to change our plans quickly if there are performance gains to be made. We have worked together for almost three years now and I have to say that he is a great guy to work with.

Immediately after the aerodynamic review, we have a dyno review. This meeting has the same purpose but the subject is our transmission dynamometer as opposed to the wind tunnel. I'm joined in this meeting by Alistair Oxley, our Head of Mechanical & Transmission Engineering. Both the wind tunnel and the dyno are key simulation tools which give us a competitive edge if we use them correctly and it’s important that we extract all that we can out of these important assets.

At 9.15am I attend a daily production briefing in the Model Shop. The purpose is to coordinate the day's production requirements and to ensure that we meet the needs of our aerodynamicists. This meeting is as short or as long as required but thankfully it was a short meeting today as our manufacturing is running very well at the moment.

Wednesdays are a day of meetings as I also hold a number of one-to-ones with my eight direct reports. These are all key Operational managers and our meetings provide an opportunity to focus on some of the longer-term actions as well as current issues.

As I mentioned yesterday, we have a unique special project on the go at the moment which is to support the product launch of a new ice cream! Mercedes-Benz is supporting the activity by providing some of its sports bicycles and our job is to adapt these to become three-wheelers capable of carrying a large cold box of ice creams. The programme is the idea of Jody Scheckter, the ex Formula One world champion and owner of the Laverstoke Park farm. As is often the case in our world, we have very little time to achieve this and we are operating within a very tight timeline. As I write this blog, we are to plan and I sincerely hope it stays that way.

We are talking to a potential new customer for our commercial wind tunnel at the moment. We hope that this can become a strategic customer providing valuable contribution back to the team. This customer has the potential to take up to a third of our available capacity and would be a very good mix with our existing clients. Fingers crossed.

Finally, we are making a number of showcars at the moment, one of which will go to our friends at Merecedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines in Brixworth to be displayed in their reception. This particular car is due for delivery next week and there remain a few items to coordinate to make sure that this delivery is successfully achieved.

It’s a long day and I typically leave the office at about 9.30pm, having taken the time to address emails received during the day and also prepare for the first meetings of the following day. My first meeting on Thursday will be the daily production review at 9.15am.

Tuesday 1 June

Our main activity this week started today as Monday was a bank holiday in the UK. As is often the case with our Bank Holidays, the weather was not great with much of the country experiencing rain!

My role at the team is Director of Wind Tunnel Operations and Special Projects which includes responsibility for our Brackley headquarters site, our wind tunnel operations and most of our large projects. It is a great role as it is so varied and I am very lucky to work with a group of highly-motivated and extremely capable people.

Tuesday is always a busy day for Wind Tunnel Operations as it is the day where we collate all of our performance data for the preceding week and present our results. Wind Tunnel Operations is fairly unique at the team as it is the only true 24/7 operation. Basically it never stops! This adds a certain amount of operational pressure but it is the only way to maximise our performance potential, therefore our week runs from Monday to Sunday inclusive.

The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) has strict restrictions on wind tunnel running and the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and there is an allowance that we must not exceed. The allowance is made of up CFD processor capacity used and wind tunnel ‘fan on’ hours used so when running our large wind tunnel and using our CFD super computer, we always ensure that we stay within the allowance. Within the current FOTA restrictions, we are also limited to a maximum of four full-scale wind tunnel days. These are where we take the actual race car and work on it in the wind tunnel.

Having collated the figures for week 22, we had a good week overall. Our wind tunnel was available for use for just over 97% of the 168-hour week which is above our internal target. Our manufacturing plant was heavily utilised with returns of 91% in rapid prototyping for example. These measures are based on absolute capacity so they are measured against a 168-hour week.

During our weekly meeting, we discussed the things that went well which included supporting our recent full-scale test plus 2010 and 2011 model development sessions. We have been extremely busy recently and whilst we generally manufacture over 500 part designs per week, last week we delivered 884 designs which is an excellent achievement by our group.

We did have one or two issues to discuss. We lost some valuable manufacturing time to rapid prototyping plant reliability and we also experienced some issues with the wind tunnel when we returned to model testing from our 24 hour period of full-scale testing.

One the special projects side, we are currently working on a very unusual and exciting project which I will tell you more about tomorrow.

My department also manages a commercial operation where we sell excess wind tunnel capacity in our smaller open jet tunnel to third party users. Last week we had one of our cycling customers in the wind tunnel which went very well.

The factory maintenance team who also come under my responsibility are currently busy working on a refurbishment proposal for the washroom facilities throughout the main building on site. These facilities are now 10 years old and in need of updating. They have also just finished a refurbishment of the restaurant facility onsite and that is now in full use for our staff. In the entrance of our large wind tunnel, we have two historic Formula One cars suspended from the ceiling to form a display. Last week, these were taken down to be re-branded in our current livery and we are currently working on our timeline to re-erect them. This is quite an operation as they are suspended within a three-storey reception area!

So, all in all a busy but satisfying day to start the week.

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