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Abandon stations - Build machines!

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Jun/Jul 2012

Chris Williams-Lilley, director of Rail Champions, takes a look back at the events of Infrarail 2012.

Reflecting on the Infrarail event in May, it was refreshing to hear so many suppliers and constructors sounding upbeat about the rail industry and to discover more about the tidal wave of change Network Rail is going through to become a more agile and transparent organisation. Let me explain. Simon Kirby, Managing Director – Infrastructure Projects at Network Rail delivered a powerful keynote speech, which not only gave direction for suppliers, but was clearly marking out a route map for successful ‘supplier engagement and Lean Project Delivery’.

Apart from spelling out the way forward to build ‘constructible designs’, Network Rail we are told is forming its own infrastructure contracting organisation, either to fulfill its own contracts (in the UK or globally) or perhaps even to compete against an existing supplier base – which is a radical change of policy.

For Rail Champions, we were delighted to be working with both Network Rail and global business leaders, and to deliver two interactive Platform Sessions as a vehicle for open discussion on gear-changing challenges facing the UK transport sector.

Greater collaboration

In business, as in other walks of life, teamwork can pay real dividends. Companies that work together can often achieve much more than they can achieve alone. The question is: what’s the best way for businesses to collaborate? How can they most effectively work together?

The key takeaway from the first panel discussion, on Collaboration, was perfectly framed by fellow panel member Andrew Harrison (Certified Facilitator for BS11000), who said: “For the first time we have a route map as to how to make this work – BS 11000.

“This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to become certificated to the standard but, as a way to make all parties recognise and understand the milestones, effort and principals supporting collaborative working it is a key document to understand and a process to be aware of.”

Working in line with the principles of this standard doesn’t guarantee improved outcomes, but it significantly increases the chances of success.

Sincere thanks to other panellists including; David Hawkins (Operations Director, Partnership Sourcing Limited) and Katie Ferrier (Head of Supplier Engagement, Network Rail).

Innovative Thinking

The second Platform Session on Innovation was chaired by Jon Bentley (presenter of the Gadget Show) and focused on a particular subject close to my heart having been a supplier to the rail sector myself. Since the McNulty report was published, there has been much talk about changing the status quo of how major rail infrastructure projects are let and recommendations on how they should be managed. The goal: to deliver projects cheaper, faster and safer.

With passenger numbers growing, there is huge pressure to reduce possession times and cut costs. So where is the compass pointing today, and where are we heading?

Recently hitting the headlines was the ‘Innovation in Rail’ competition with nearly £4m of R&D funding being made available by the RSSB and the Technology Strategy Board. Therefore, it would seem to many in the industry (and central Government) that innovation is the ‘great enabler’ for transformation in the rail sector, at all levels.

Further to this, Network Rail has launched an initiative to introduce intelligent infrastructure across the network. Real-time data collected from assets installed on the network will facilitate a greater control of fault diagnostics, maintenance planning and improve performance exponentially.

Is Network Rail abandoning stations in favour of machines? What I’m suggesting is with the advent of more intelligent assets in our stations, buildings such as King’s Cross and St Pancras bristling with mircochips and intelligence; there is far greater management and control of systems, security, passenger flow and lean asset maintenance. Effectively we are building large machines, ‘city hubs’, or ‘hives’. The trick is to build them efficiently, mostly offsite and reduce the impact on the environment – offering a greater passenger experience.

Indeed, we applaud The Railway Industry Association (RIA) who organised a successful supplier conference in November to discuss how to respond to this exciting opportunity. It was at this particular event that Professor Andrew McNaughton (chief engineer at HS2) set a challenge to the industry.

“We need suppliers to work with us to deliver solutions, which will help bring a step change in business performance, rather than simply supply engineering widgets.”

After all, you do not want to be the most efficient, cost effective producer/manufacturer of X today, if nobody wants it tomorrow. True rail champions are independent thinkers – wouldn’t you agree? If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.

Adam Woods (Machine 2 Machine Global Programme Manager) added: “Successful diffusion of ideas come from having a robust ecosystem in place to fully develop innovative products and services.”

What he is suggesting is that there needs to be engagement end-to-end of the supply chain, with a mechanism to capture and nurture the best ideas, which have both commercial benefit and have considerably more benefits to the operator (not necessarily bells and whistles). It’s fair to say most suppliers are concerned with producing products and services that meet the procurement specification and there is little return on submitting alternatives until attitudes change. We still need our engineers to design more efficient and reliable products, but functionality has to be at the heart of the solution. We need to solve real life problems, in return for real life cash; otherwise we are not re-inventing the wheel.

Next time we will be investigating Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) and how companies such as Network Rail are meeting the challenges of running a complex business model, but also ensuring there is a lasting legacy for their employees, the environment, and local community.

Rail Champions create, deliver and manage business winning strategies for suppliers to the UK rail sector.

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