Paul Pywell is Head of UK Operations for Lotus Engineering.Interviewed by just-auto’s Dave Leggett.
What are the main areas and responsibilities that come with the role of Head of UK Operations for Lotus Engineering (LE)?
I am responsible for the day to day management of all areas of LE in the UK except Sales and Marketing. This covers all our technical groups, workshops, facilities and project management, each of these areas being headed by a Group Chief Engineer or Senior Manager. In addition to ensuring delivery of projects to our engineering customers this also include R&D projects and other activities focussed on maintaining and growing capabilities We have about 200 engineers here at Hethel supplemented by a string network of sub contract engineers who we call on when necessary
Describe a typical day (if there is one)…
As you may expect, there is no such thing as a “typical day” although there is a pattern. The day will normally start with a check on emails that may have come in overnight, either from our colleagues in North America, China or Malaysia. This allows me to set or adjust priorities before joining the senior technical team and sales managers in a start of day review of new opportunities. This ensures that we maintain a clear focus on emerging customer requirements and that we get the right focus onto dealing with them. As a rule the rest of the morning is taken up with dealing with project related issues, either specific project reviews or resolving issues such as resourcing. The rest of the day is generally taken up with reviewing sales documents with the technical and sales teams, any outstanding project or resource issues and staff matters. This of course doesn’t include those days where I am visiting customers, supporting visits on site at Hethel or reporting into or working with the Senior management – as I said, no such thing as a typical day.
How much project work takes place off-site – for example, working very closely with the client, wherever they may be?
Our engineers are regularly required to work at the Customer’s premises – whether this is for review meetings, development testing or vehicle optimisation and validation sign-off. This might be in the UK, Europe or Asia. We also have staff based at the Customer’s site for longer periods to support key phases of a programme.
The majority of our projects however are delivered from Hethel
The UK auto industry seems to be faring relatively well at the moment. So how is the LE business doing this year?
LE is a part of Group Lotus so I am unable to give any financial figures related to our performance. Suffice it to say that all of our engineers have been fully employed on either customer or part funded R&D projects in the past year. We usually have about 70 to 100 live projects on the go at any one time. We are also very supportive of the government’s initiative to promote and invest in innovation in the UK and we are fortunate to be part of two worthwhile and high profile Technology Strategy Board projects, REEVolution and Ultraboost, which have not only enabled us to deliver worthwhile projects amongst other UK OEMs but also to help bring the vitally important high technology supply chain industry to the fore.
Is it a diverse mix of projects that LE is undertaking? Can you give me an idea of the kinds of projects that you undertake?
LE is always engaged in a diverse mix of projects, that’s what makes it such an interesting place to work. We have a very broad range of skills that mean that our projects can range from relatively small services or consultancy projects to full scale product development, in this respect we have the advantage that Lotus is a manufacturer which means that we have, or have access to, all the skills and competencies we need to deliver such a broad range of work. We’ve most recently been working on the build and development of 414 and the build of hydrogen powered taxis. We developed the turbo charged Campro engine for Proton, which went into production last year. We regularly undertake concept studies on powertrains as well as vehicle. Our chassis engineers are working on a number of ride and handling projects for customers in China as well as chassis design and suspension development for an exciting new sports car. The 414 project is a well publicised example of a part funded R&D project but we work on others, Ultraboost for example. We conduct engine testing for a number of engine manufacturers as well as EMS and engine calibration. On the lightweight architectures front we are working on a project with a major OEM to develop a composite crash structure.
And the client base…mainly OEMs, suppliers?
We have a very wide client base at present ranging from OEM’s in the UK and Asia to Tier 1 suppliers in Europe and the UK.
We also have strong R&D relationships with a number of Universities which continue to develop our capabilities and hence the business opportunities which we can pursue.
Do you do much work for non-automotive firms?
Occasionally, when the right opportunity arises. These would either be projects that are a little off beat but interesting or those where we can bring the disciplines of engineering production solutions to an innovative environment. It is always interesting to see how we can apply automotive techniques and technologies to other areas, and vice versa.
How does Lotus manage its engineering capability and how has it changed over the last ten years?
Our core capabilities in powertrain and vehicle engineering have been developed and maintained through continuously working on new projects over the years. This can be a bit reactive so we have, over the past year taken a more detailed view on our current capabilities and where we want to be in 5 years. This has been guided by the technology roadmaps we have developed to drive our R&D focus. Our relationship with our global client base as well as working with such bodies as Automotive Council and TSB gives us confidence that the technology roadmaps are realistic. We have developed plans for filling the gaps that are built around a combination of R&D, targeted projects, facilities development and staff development. Some of these activities have started. I think that the biggest change in our capabilities in the past 10 years is in the EV/HEV area.
What are the biggest challenges facing LE?
Ensuring that the services and technologies we offer continue to be relevant and competitive. Costs of delivering engineering projects are always under pressure, particularly with the growth of capability in India and China, while at the same time we need to deliver mature OEM technology and techniques to projects overseas.
Are there issues in hiring certain sorts of engineer? (given general reports of skill shortages)
Thus far we haven’t had any issues with this. If and when we do need to grow headcount I would anticipate that certain skills will be harder to find than others, Software and calibration engineers, for example, are always in demand. We have always had the advantage that the strength of the Lotus name together with the variety of work has drawn in good talent. Our location in Norfolk also offers some benefits in terms of it not only being a great place to live also enjoys lower costs of housing etc.
What of the future? How are you planning for growth and do you see the focus of the engineering work carried out by LE shifting?
We’ve discussed the way we’re planning our capability growth and development. Our growth in facilities is planned to be on the Hethel site, although I don’t think we would rule out opening alternative office locations to support growth and get us closer to our customers although that’s not featuring in any of our plans right now. I think we’ll see our work shifting in two ways, the first will be an increase in the work that we do that is electrical/electronic rather than mechanically biased – for example more calibration, integration of control systems, particularly with hybrid powertrains. I would also expect our work to be even more prominently led by analysis. All this will be augmented by our conventional core skills and experience.
What is the relationship with Lotus Cars Product Engineering team and Lotus Engineering teams?
We work pretty much independently of each other, although we can and do share resources and when it is mutually beneficial and supports the flexibility on which we pride ourselves.
Why is there this separation between the two Engineering teams? It wasn’t always like that was it?
The separation came about a couple of years ago. Previously all the engineering staff were in a single division. Current Engineering, i.e. maintaining existing product was always pretty much embedded in the Lotus Cars organisation but new products were developed by engineering product teams formed out of LE. Separating the two meant that we in LE could focus wholly on delivering our customer programmes and did not have the risk of disruption from product demands. For the Product Engineering team the separation allowed them to remain focussed on their plans.
Lotus is in an enviable position where it can oversee the state of the automotive industry. What are the consistent fears of your clients and how does Lotus go about solving these issues?
I’m not sure about fears, from my perspective our clients continue to have the same concerns and drivers with respect to cost, time to market and quality. Apart from these givens the dominant issue is emissions. The technologies and techniques that we are either developing or being involved in are taking us down a number of the alternative carbon reduction paths, i.e. engine downsizing, alternative fuels, light weighting, and hybridisation.
Our background and experience of working at whole vehicle level both as an engineering business and as a manufacturer means that we tend to take a holistic rather than just a system based approach.
Paul Pywell is Head of UK Operations for Lotus Engineering. He joined Lotus 26 years ago after working in the Defence industry for about 10 years. Immediately prior to his current job he was Head of Project Management, following a number of project and management roles. These included delivering projects for customers in North America, Korea and Malaysia as well as working on Lotus products.Paul is a Chartered Engineer with degrees from Loughborough University and the Royal Military College of Science.
Author: Dave Leggett