Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Prof. who teamed JLR with Tata

Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, who has created a business out of education and industrial R&D, was the “kingpin” in the deal to persuade Indian carmaker Tata to purchase JaguarLandRover from Ford, according to a magazine just published.

Bhattacharyya never doubted that the coming together of the two businesses would prove beneficial, reports Professional Engineering, the journal of the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Interviewed by editor, Lee Hibbert, Bhattacharyya said: “I’ve known Ratan Tata for many years. I introduced him to JLR; he’s a car enthusiast and is extremely knowledgeable.”

“I haven’t been surprised by how successful it has been,” he added. “Tata’s culture is one of long-termism. It puts engineers at the forefront, and it gives them the money they need. With JLR, it realised that if new products were done well, they would sell. And that required significant investment in research and development.”

Bhattacharyya, who is founder and chairman of the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) – see also our blog ‘Warwick University bolstered by £32 million – is a firm believer in the potential of British industry to compete in globalised markets, while also embracing the fresh thinking and change of culture that foreign companies can bring.

“British industry had to go through a lot of pain in the 1970s, but it learnt from companies like Toyota, who went on to change the way we think about how to make good products,” said Bhattacharyya.

Bhattacharyya chose to study engineering at university because he thought it the “noblest of professions”.

At the age of 21, and keen to progress, Bhattacharyya was selected for a two-year graduate apprenticeship at Lucas and came to Britain.

“I have never regretted becoming an engineer. And I have always believed that British engineers were the ‘bees knees’,” he told Hibbert.

One of Lucas’s subsidiaries, CAV in Acton, west London, made fuel injection equipment for diesel engines and today is known as Delphi Diesel Systems of Stonehouse, Glos. It was at CAV that Bhattacharyya cut his teeth, working his way through the business as part of his graduate apprenticeship.

Lucas formed strong links with Birmingham University where Bhattacharyya subsequently went to complete his PhD. Following this, Bhattacharyya became founder of the university’s manufacturing systems unit.

                                                    Fastest growing

“It became one of the fastest growing parts of the engineering faculty,” said Bhattacharyya.

Not only that, but here also Bhattacharyya discovered his talent for growing industry-related research activities.

“We won a lot of funding to do projects with large car facilities, like British Leyland’s Longbridge plant making the Mini (adjacent to the university). We looked at areas like transfer line efficiencies and the development of new inspection techniques,” he said. “We brought a lot of new thinking in to help carmakers analyse, model and simulate what was going on.”

Bhattacharyya realised that trouble was brewing, epitomised by the British Leyland Mini which reflected the malaise at the heart of the British car industry – poor cost control and manufacturing efficiencies. British Leyland was losing £30 on every Mini it sold.

During this period Bhattacharyya visited Japan several times. Toyota had started exporting and Bhattacharyya returned from Japan and said to himself: ”My God, will we ever survive?”

Toyota’s combination of technology and efficiency was “mind boggling” and he could see the writing on the wall of the British car industry, the more so as those at the top of the British car industry were dismissive of the threat posed by global competition.

“Countries like Japan and Germany were moving at very fast rates; but in the British car industry there was a lack of investment and companies were using old machine tools,” said Bhattacharyya. “I could see the start of industrial decline.”

“Japan was taking a more holistic view – they were thinking about their suppliers, about how products were designed, how they were made – they were totally integrated in all that they were doing,” he added.

To this day, Bhattacharyya defends shop-floor workers and engineers who lost their jobs in the industrial shake-down.

But in fairness, there were other factors at play at the time – the trades unions, for example, were immensely strong and contributed to the decline, while top management appeared powerless to halt them in their tracks of helping to destroy companies.

“But they (shop-floor workers and engineers) weren’t led,” emphasised Bhattacharyya.  “It was never that our people were not capable. It was that global changes in manufacturing were not being addressed. It was a lack of policy by the government and a lack of understanding of the intellectual base that was required within companies.”

Bhattacharyya switched to an academic role at Warwick University following a request by the university's vice chancellor, Lord Jack Butterworth, to launch a premier manufacturing, teaching and research group, where he could more greatly exercise his determination to help British manufacturing industry.

So in 1980 he founded WMG. And the rest, they say, is history.

Bhattacharyya began working with research councils and big companies, like British Aerospace, GKN, Rolls-Royce and Short Brothers, to attract the best people.

                                          Bhattacharyya’s ethos

This marked the beginning of the ethos which has pervaded the WMG, as industry gradually began its close association with Warwick University. For example, JLR supported four research chairs at WMG. In recent years, JLR has embarked on huge investment programmes at Castle Bromwich, Solihull and Halewood. Shown below are ABB robots at the Range Rover Sport body-in-white (BIW) line at Solihull.

“We encouraged companies to engage with us, to allow their staff to come and study Master of Science degrees,” noted Bhattacharyya.

Today, WMG is one of the world’s leading research and education groups with more than 500 people working across six buildings of the Warwick campus.

According to Professional Engineering, at the last count WMG had an annual programme of £180 million, which includes industrial and in-kind support from a wide range of companies including Airbus, Bosch, GlaxoSmithKline, JLR, Network Rail and Siemens.

The magazine notes that in 2014 perhaps the most exciting developments have been the launch of four new R&D centres: the Energy Innovation Centre, the Automotive Composites Centre, the International Institute of Nanocomposites Manufacturing and the Advanced Steel Research Centre which complements Tata Steel’s new centre at the University of Warwick.

A fifth, the National Automotive Innovation Centre is set to open in 2016. This £100 million cntre, the foundations for which are now being dug, is a partnership between JLR, Tata Motors and WMG/University of Warwick. It will focus on the challenges posed by electric vehicles (EVs), carboon reduction and connectivity for vehicles The NAIC's building will occupy 30,000m2 next to WMG's facilities on the university's campus and be home to 1,000 academics and engineers from the partnership to work on advanced projects.

WMG also has contracts with China, Malaysia, South Africa and Thailand.

“We have a record international intake here now,” said Bhattacharyya. “There is tremendous demand. I could go to China tomorrow and get 5,000 quality students.”

“I am very hopeful about the future,” he concluded. “Sustained long-term thinking is crucial to this nation. Government can be a driver in this area, working jointly with industry and academia.”

Comment: There are many who would wish they had achieved half as much in their lifetime as the Professor from India who set about transforming both engineering and manufacturing in the UK.

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