Fri, 25/01/2019 - 07:20
Leveraging the latest technologies and proactively capitalising on emerging trends, Ricardo Performance Products continues to fuel the high-performance automotive revolution
Writer: Jonathan Dyble
Project Manager: Thomas Arnold
Motorsport epitomises the very best of innovation and engineering, continually combined in new, ever-advancing ways that provide a platform for incremental improvement.
Formula One is the pinnacle of this, each car comprising 80,000 carefully positioned components that are uniquely and individually scrutinised through rigorous testing and technology-enabled analysis.
The rapid evolution of high-performance vehicles that has been experienced in recent decades and the often-astounding capabilities of current models are testament to the expertise of manufacturers and engineers, such as the experts at Ricardo Performance Products.
As the manufacturing arm of global engineering, environmental and strategic consultancy Ricardo, the firm’s Performance Products division pioneered early hyper cars such as the Jaguar XJ220 and McLaren F1 and today continues to work with a range world-renowned global brands, from Volkswagen’s Bugatti Chiron to Aston Martin’s Valkyrie.
However, in line with the evolution of the automotive market, Ricardo Performance Products’ capabilities have diversified in recent times, with the firm now operating across a broad range of advanced manufacturing segments.
“Originally a manufacturer of prototype and race car transmissions, Performance Products has grown to support niche assembly in transmission, engines and complete vehicles and is now well established as the manufacturing specialists within Ricardo,” explains Martin Starkey, Business Development Director for
Innovative and diverse
Currently employing more than 300 people globally, Performance Products provides turnkey production solutions in an adaptable way across a variety of global industries.
The firm prides itself on its unrivalled ability to deliver best practice, modern automotive products and services across each and every one of its projects, regardless of complexity.
“Central to our success is our proven approach to niche volume manufacture, focusing on truly integrated product development and manufacturing capability through the life of the project,” Starkey explains.
“Whether it is assembling an engine for a supercar or a transmission for a monorail, there is usually a process whereby a number of critical steps need to be completed in a repeatable way – processes that we have become accomplished in completing while consistently adhering to strict manufacturing controls.”
Through an emphasis on diversification and innovation, the company has developed a broad range of new and advanced manufacturing tools that, combined with its expert operators and supporting digital infrastructure, give Performance Products a distinct competitive advantage in niche volume manufacturing.
“Examples of this include human-machine interface systems supporting the operator with digital work instructions and Wi-Fi controlled tooling to plant-wide virtual Andon systems,” explains Starkey. “These assist management in monitoring plant performance and build issues, among other things – typical in high volume manufacturing but more unique in the world of niche volume production.”
The development and implementation of such systems is an inherently important part of Performance Products’ investment programme, but it makes up just one small portion of this extensive agenda.
Research and development is key to the division’s ability to stay ahead of the curve and provide the latest and most advanced products and services to its clients, enabling it to satisfy their complex demands. For this reason, Performance Products constantly seeks to improve and update its operating model.
“Alongside new intelligent systems, we continually invest in our manufacturing sites in the UK,” Starkey reveals. “In our transmission technical centre in Leamington we have recently added additional capabilities to both our machining facilities and our end of line test cells, improving our offering in emerging electrified motorsport sectors.
“Equally, in our engine assembly plant down in Shoreham we have made significant upgrades to both the engine assembly line and the supporting logistics centre, ensuring we can meet the demands of tomorrow.”
With these upgrades providing new challenges in the way of staff training, Performance Products ensured that the implementation and transition was seamless by allowing its employees to familiarise themselves with the new systems through the use of VR technology to simulate the new factory prior to installation.
To this end, the company was able to implement the new systems quickly and effectively while adding flexibility and capacity. Starkey adds: “These changes were installed over just a three-week period in August 2018 when the plant was undergoing its annual shut down.”
Capitalising on current trends
Such investment practices are not limited to the firm’s capital either.
Equally, Performance Products ensures that its staff are continually educated so that they can effectively meet any shifts in the market and become qualified in using the latest manufacturing techniques and technologies.
The firm’s work in the electric vehicle market is one such example of this – a market that is increasingly finding its way into the high-performance automotive segment.
In response to this rising trend, Performance Products invested in training its staff in electric vehicle-relevant areas, a strategy that has since paid dividends, with the firm having developed supply chain and manufacturing capabilities in the production of high-performance traction batteries and development of electric axles for automotive drivelines.
“Such requirements and capabilities have spilled over into motorsport where we are now developing and supplying transmissions for several teams in Formula E,” Starkey reiterates.
These expanded innovative activities are testament to Performance Products’ emphasis on current trends, a forward-thinking approach that is equally reflected by Ricardo’s graduate programme.
Operating an accredited scheme, the group provides young and talented graduates with the opportunities to hone their skills, bolster their experience and broaden their knowledge in a hands-on environment, whilst also helping to bring in new ideas and thought processes throughout the business, including the Performance Products division.
“As a leading employer of engineering, scientific and other professional skills, we focus our efforts on investing in the future by working with young people via our local schools and colleges,” explains Starkey. “STEM is our focus.
“Examples of this include our award-winning work experience programme, where 40 students were each provided with work experience opportunities in the year, supporting a number of events for local schools in our Shoreham-based Centenary Innovation Centre.”
Combined with these extensive investments, proactive approach and innovative culture is Performance Products’ own robust network of esteemed suppliers, a network that is crucial to its own success.
Much like its own philosophies, many of the company’s business partners remain flexible, something that is integral within the niche volume environment.
“Over many years Ricardo Performance Products has worked hard to establish a leading approved supplier list that not only has the technical pedigree to support such levels of complexity but also, in many cases, has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the demands that exist in our particular industry,” explains Starkey.
“We take great pride in our key partnerships built within our supply chain, and the ever-expanding in-house supplier quality function continues to work hand in hand with our partners to identify, investigate and implement efficiency and productivity gains that benefit all parties.”
More recently, the firm has dramatically sought to expand the geographical reach of this supplier network to bolster its capacity, evident in the number of partnerships that it has agreed with companies in the Far East who are able to better cater to its growing niche volume programmes.
Striving for a sustainable supply chain that is able to meet both immediate quality and delivery targets and offer strategic guidance on design and manufacturing process in this way, often leveraging the latest technologies, Ricardo’s supplier partners play a fundamental role in maintaining its continued success.
“The key relationships that have been developed over a number of years consistently prove to provide us with the ability to meet all aspects of our clients’ requirements whilst maintaining a continuous improvement mentality throughout the value stream,” Starkey adds.
All things combined, Ricardo Performance Products has been able to successfully establish an esteemed reputation, differentiating itself by consistently delivering some of the most advanced powertrain products for some of the world’s most impressive vehicle models.
Achieving this to the highest quality standards whilst working in what is typically a very different volume sector is a hallmark of Ricardo Performance Products and something that Starkey is particularly proud of.
“Almost any challenge is met and addressed by our staff, a team consisting of a multitude of different specialists with experience in manufacturing in low volume,” he explains. “This team is supported by a well-developed and proven global supply chain that is equally experienced in this niche.
“Ultimately these elements work together to successfully deliver programmes in timescales that few competitors could achieve.”
Based on this proven model, Starkey remains optimistic about the coming years as the firm aims to diversify into new sectors and bolster its existing capabilities.
He concludes: “I expect the next five years to be dominated by a continued drive into electrification and would expect Performance Products to successfully established its niche volume, high performance battery manufacturing capabilities to match its current engine and transmission capabilities.”