MANAGEMENT TODAY AWARDS FOR MANUFACTURING 2002: BEST ENGINEERING PLANT - The Amicus AEEU Award

MANAGEMENT TODAY AWARDS FOR MANUFACTURING 2002: BEST ENGINEERING PLANT - The Amicus AEEU Award - HIGHLY COMMENDED - ALVIS VEHICLES

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

HIGHLY COMMENDED - ALVIS VEHICLES

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To manage a plant in the defence industry, you need one eye on the long term, one on the short term - and steady nerves. Take 83-year-old Alvis Vehicles. Telford-based Alvis, which makes light and medium armoured vehicles in dozens of different permutations, is running at half factory capacity (in fact, half what it was doing two years ago). It expects no contracts from the MoD for the next couple of years. Gulp.

On the other hand, three foreign orders are about to be awarded, for each of which Alvis is a runner. And in 2005, it starts production work on the multinational Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV), the largest collaborative armoured vehicle programme in the history of NATO.

MRAV, a unique modular design with a demountable hull, is now being built in prototype at Telford to the tightest of schedules and technical tolerances.

It could have a total European requirement of up to 3,000 units - in which case factory output will more than double and capacity will be at a premium.

But that's the defence industry. 'We don't view a downturn as the end of the world,' says Alvis's managing director Chris Rowe cheerfully. Although not exactly a blessing in disguise (especially for an exceptionally loyal workforce that is co-operating in voluntary redundancies), the cyclical defence ordering has been a powerful spur to competitiveness. For a start, it has obliged the company to concentrate on exports, so it is accustomed to competing inter- nationally on quality, innovation and absolute reliability. Having merged with GKN Defence and acquired Vickers earlier this year, it is also leading the consolidation of the European armoured vehicle segment to meet larger American rivals on more equal terms.

As a project-based organisation 'at the top of the supply chain' with exceptionally demanding customers, Alvis stands or falls by the responsiveness of its manufacturing processes, which run all the way from raw material to final assembly. Flexibility is even more critical, since it manufactures in tiny quantities of extremely high value. And there is always the possibility of explosions in far-off places that can generate sudden surges of urgent demand.

So the lull in the order book is deceptive. Alvis is using it to bed in a range of product and process innovations covering work on detection avoidance, new hull materials and electric drive on the product side, and initiatives in supplier and supply chain management, lead-time reduction and teambuilding and teamworking (including an innovative ideas scheme) in processes. The aim is to build an Alvis production system that supports customer 'partnership' with full-range service, making Alvis 'the partner of choice for soldier and buyer'. That's the planned side. But in the defence industry things don't always go to plan - and in matters of life and death few honours go to those who are unprepared.

- Amicus, the union formed by the merger of AEEU and MSF can now claim to be Britain's largest union in manufacturing. Amicus is determined to provide a focus for promoting investment into the UK's manufacturing base. The union is committed to raising productivity and strengthening job security and prosperity for those dependent on a thriving manufacturing economy.

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