Driv­ing In­no­va­tion

Pow­er­ing a new fron­tier in ef­fi­ciency

EME Outlook - - Contents - Writer: Matthew Staff | Project Man­ager: Thomas Arnold

For more than 40 years, the name ‘Wil­liams’ has been syn­ony­mous with en­gi­neer­ing ex­cel­lence in the UK and in­deed around the world. And since 2010, the renowned mo­tor­sport heavy­weight’s de­voted Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing arm has man­aged to trans­late tra­di­tion and legacy into one of the most for­ward- think­ing and in­no­va­tive propo­si­tions in the in­dus­try.

Ini­tially set up to part­ner with Jaguar on its C-X75 hy­per­car project, the di­vi­sion - oper­at­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously and in align­ment with its neigh­bour­ing Wil­liams F1 op­er­a­tions - has di­ver­si­fied and ex­panded in such a way as to of­fer some of the most per­ti­nent and chal­leng­ing so­lu­tions to an-ever chang­ing do­main.

Now serv­ing not just the au­to­mo­tive and mo­tor­sport space, but ad­di­tion­ally ar­eas of aerospace, de­fence, sports science, en­ergy, marine and much, much more; the Com­pany ex­ists cur­rently as a tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion-driven so­lu­tions provider across en­gi­neer­ing dis­ci­plines, rather than a sec­tor-fo­cused provider of tai­lored com­po­nents.

Such acu­men has in­evitably at­tracted nu­mer­ous high-end clients to the front door of Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing’s Ox­ford­shire-based head­quar­ters in the UK. But, as Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Craig Wilson em­pha­sises in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with EME Out­look, the over­rid­ing trends at present re­main fa­mil­iar and con­sis­tent from a so­lu­tions per­spec­tive.

“The big driv­ers all re­volve around sus­tain­abil­ity and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, so this in­cludes ar­eas of lightweight­ing, aero­dy­nam­ics, ther­mo­dy­nam­ics, and bat­tery devel­op­ment; more often than not in­cor­po­rated into the EV (elec­tric ve­hi­cle) sec­tor,” he says. “These ca­pa­bil­i­ties are all borne out of our core busi­ness and are in­creas­ingly sig­nif­i­cant if you look at any area of trans­porta­tion just now. It’s the way the in­dus­try is head­ing and I would say it gives us quite a good edge in the mar­ket.”

Upon en­ter­ing the Com­pany’s fa­cil­i­ties at Grove, the spot­light on elec­tric ve­hi­cles is hardly a se­cret; its FW-EVX con­cept plat­form dom­i­nat­ing the lobby, and serv­ing as an im­me­di­ate in­di­ca­tion of where the Com­pany’s at­ten­tions and in­deed strengths lie in this rapidly in­ten­si­fy­ing seg­ment of global en­gi­neer­ing.

“We are very proud of the FW-EVX for the com­po­nents and el­e­ments it show­cases; which we will look to im­prove-upon and ex­ploit across other so­lu­tions in the fu­ture,” Wilson con­tin­ues. “For in­stance, it high­lights bat­tery devel­op­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing which is a key area for us along­side light­weight com­pos­ites and ma­te­ri­als. As well as the bat­tery man­age­ment sys­tem, the EVX also in­cor­po­rates in­no­va­tions across aero­dy­nam­ics and ther­mo­dy­nam­ics as fur­ther ways to im­prove ef­fi­cien­cies and safety for this plat­form.

“It’s the ef­fi­ciency of the plat­form but also the weight and the struc­ture which re­volves around the ar­range­ment of com­pos­ites, ther­mal per­for­mance and gen­er­ally a more holis­tic ap­proach to the con­cept.”

Of course, the art of ef­fi­ciency is no new weapon on the au­to­mo­tive bat­tle­field but as more and more Tier 1 man­u­fac­tur­ers look to gain an ad­van­tage in the EV arena, the onus then trans­fers to the likes of Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing to fa­cil­i­tate the trend’s on­go­ing evo­lu­tion.

Wilson says: “Ve­hi­cle ef­fi­ciency has al­ways been im­por­tant for the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine but noth­ing like the chal­lenge with EVS which has taken the ap­proach to ef­fi­ciency to a new level for man­u­fac­tur­ers and their prod­ucts. And as more com­pa­nies in­tro­duce more prod­ucts, the chal­lenge then be­comes: “what’s the USP?”

“If it’s now the mar­ket sta­ple, the dif­fer­en­tia­tor for a ve­hi­cle isn’t go­ing to be whether you have a V12 or a V6, but it’s go­ing to be as­pects of range, weight, aero­dy­nam­ics, drag and bat­tery life as the key in­di­ca­tors of per­for­mance.”

The in­de­pen­dence, as­sets and know-how were all here to be ex­ploited and ex­panded upon but it did all start af­ter be­ing ap­proached by Jaguar re­gard­ing the un­der­tak­ing of the C-X75. Back then, Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing was a project. Now, it’s a busi­ness

High level tar­gets

In 2018, Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing is unique in what it is able to achieve, with no other ded­i­cated op­er­a­tor blessed with the same in- house breadth of scope, re­sources, af­fil­i­a­tions and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. How­ever, upon the de­part­ment’s in­cep­tion back in 2010, the fo­cus wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily on fos­ter­ing an au­tonomous, turnkey, in­dus­try-lead­ing func­tion; rather it was wholly di­rected to­wards its gen­e­sis: the Jaguar C-X75 pro­gramme.

Wilson notes: “The in­de­pen­dence, as­sets and know-how were all here to be ex­ploited and ex­panded upon but it did all start af­ter be­ing ap­proached by Jaguar re­gard­ing the un­der­tak­ing of the C-X75. Back then, Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing was a project. Now, it’s a busi­ness.”

It wasn’t as if the newly tai­lored arm was launch­ing from a stand­ing start of course; its in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence and rep­u­ta­tion in the For­mula 1 space al­ready pre­sent­ing per­fect foun­da­tions for these kinds of in­no­va­tions to be ap­plied else­where.

But in har­ness­ing ad­vanced aero­dy­nam­ics, ther­mo­dy­nam­ics, lightweight­ing, elec­tric propul­sion, in­no­va­tive chas­sis dy­nam­ics, sim­u­la­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties and over­all ve­hi­cle in­te­gra­tion un­der one car roof, the C-X75 proved to be a real eye opener as to what an arm like this could achieve on a more ex­pan­sive ba­sis.

“Although the C-X75 pro­gramme did not progress, we did pro­duce five pro­to­types that could demon­strate per­for­mance that was quite spec­tac­u­lar at that time,” Wilson en­thuses. “The high level tar­gets were that this car could out-ac­cel­er­ate a Bu­gatti Vey­ron, would have the fuel emis­sions of a Toy­ota Prius, and would have an elec­tri­cal range that could match a Chevro­let Volt. And all pack­aged into this beau­ti­ful ex­otic car.

“Our five pro­to­types demon­strated these high level tar­gets and while it was a shame that the pro­gramme didn’t pro­ceed, it did rep­re­sent the mod­ern start of Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing, and we’ve since taken a lot of what we learnt dur­ing that project and de­ployed it to a mul­ti­tude of dif­fer­ent projects.”

Sub­se­quently com­bin­ing four decades-worth of F1 ex­per­tise with this un­par­al­leled ex­plo­ration into a soon- to-be crit­i­cal au­to­mo­tive trend, the con­se­quen­tial port­fo­lio of ca­pa­bil­i­ties now serves as a one-stop shop to prospec­tive cus­tomers. To this end, as many as 40-50 projects for be­tween 20 and 30 cus­tomers are be­ing un­der­taken at any one time in the present day: the ul­ti­mate il­lus­tra­tion of the C-X75’S ini­tial sig­nif­i­cance, and the po­ten­tial of more wide­spread en­gi­neer­ing ser­vices that were al­ways bub­bling un­der the sur­face.

The fu­ture of tech­nolo­gies

The best way to then op­ti­mise such po­ten­tial is to ex­pand in­flu­ence and reach, and Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing has suc­ceeded on this front, not nec­es­sar­ily via a con­certed push into new sec­tors, but rather through an un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to en­gi­neer­ing pro­gres­sion that nat­u­rally fa­cil­i­tates so­lu­tions on a more multi-sec­tor ba­sis.

Cross-pol­li­nat­ing a whole host of de­vel­op­ments across ef­fi­ciency, struc­ture, aero­dy­nam­ics, bat­tery sys­tems and com­pos­ites; the re­sul­tant ex­per­tise not only means an or­ganic ex­pan­sion of the Com­pany’s client

base, but a busi­ness-savvy spread­ing of risk from an in­come per­spec­tive.

“It has been a con­certed ef­fort not to have all our eggs in one bas­ket and to not place un­due risk on any one sec­tor that we work within,” Wilson af­firms. “That be­ing said, we are also in a po­si­tion where we can cap­i­talise on the el­e­ment of op­por­tunis­tic growth when cer­tain op­por­tu­ni­ties come along and when we have the ca­pa­bil­i­ties in-house to meet their chal­lenges.

“How­ever, over the past cou­ple of years we have started to be­come more strate­gic with what projects we’re tar­get­ing from a busi­ness per­spec­tive, fo­cus­ing more on align­ments from a tech­nol­ogy point of view.”

En­sur­ing that ev­ery project is be­ing com­pleted to strin­gent mar­ket-lead­ing stan­dards as op­posed to try­ing to be “all things to all men”, Wilson re­calls a time im­me­di­ately af­ter the C-X75’S dis­so­lu­tion where mo­men­tum and de­vel­op­ing a project port­fo­lio was of the essence. But now that a track record has been ce­mented, a snow­ball ef­fect has duly taken place.

“Back in those early days we were de­liv­er­ing on or com­mer­cial­is­ing what we knew and what we had around us, and while that con­tin­ues to be the case to­day, we can now also turn at­ten­tions to­wards in­vest­ing in the fu­ture of

tech­nolo­gies,” the MD adds. “We’ve gone from of­fer­ing sim­ply what is best prac­tice cur­rently to now look at what tech­nolo­gies are go­ing to keep us at the fore­front in cer­tain ar­eas for the fu­ture as well. We can then come back to cus­tomers’ pro­pos­als with an even bet­ter tech­ni­cal of­fer­ing, to de­liver ei­ther as a sin­gle application or part of a big­ger project.

“Through this ap­proach, we are able to tar­get our R&D and so­lu­tions to­wards ap­pli­ca­tions that solve com­mon prob­lems across nu­mer­ous sec­tors, rather than to­wards each sec­tor in­di­vid­u­ally.”

Fresh im­pe­tus

R&D op­ti­mi­sa­tion re­quires a bridg­ing of the gap be­tween proof of con­cept and the ul­ti­mate com­mer­cial routes for each project to be ap­plied to re­spec­tive sec­tors. And with this in mind, Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing col­lab­o­rates with uni­ver­si­ties on an on­go­ing ba­sis to form a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial merger of tech­ni­cal fa­cil­i­ta­tion, and skills en­rich­ment.

Be­ing an em­ployer of choice nat­u­rally comes with the ter­ri­tory of be­ing a Wil­liams en­tity, but the busi­ness’s drive to up-skill young tal­ent in the UK rep­re­sents a much more all- en­com­pass­ing ethos.

A large place­ment pro­gramme for univer­sity grad­u­ates has been in place to this end across both Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing and Wil­liams F1, but run­ning par­al­lel are a host of in­vest­ments and af­fil­i­a­tions in place to fund PHD stu­dents through their own en­gi­neer­ing jour­neys; to help ac­cel­er­ate re­search top­ics and to explore the pos­si­bil­ity of mov­ing them for­ward if suc­cess­ful.

“We weren’t do­ing this kind of thing at all in 2010 but we do much more of it now as part of our will­ing­ness to pro­mote young engi­neers in the UK,” Wilson states. “We are a proud en­gi­neer­ing com­pany so we want to en­cour­age the next gen­er­a­tion of engi­neers, and to give them op­por­tu­ni­ties and ca­reers.”

We weren’t do­ing this kind of thing at all in 2010 but we do much more of it now as part of our will­ing­ness to pro­mote young engi­neers in the UK

Oper­at­ing along­side this busi­ness, the Fore­sight Wil­liams Tech­nol­ogy EIS Fund was set up to “sup­port dis­rup­tive tech­nol­ogy through high per­for­mance en­gi­neer­ing and proven in­vest­ing”, tar­get­ing start- up in­vestors’ nascent projects and giv­ing them a plat­form and di­rec­tion to plot a route to com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion. Wilson fur­ther de­tails: “In our first cou­ple of years we had a lot of peo­ple com­ing to us won­der­ing if we could as­sist, but back then we didn’t have the means to in­vest in their busi­ness as well as our own. But a lot of these ideas were re­ally great and from a UK per­spec­tive we knew it would be great to see these ideas suc­ceed­ing. So now that we have the means, through this Fund, we can look to help these small busi­nesses for the ben­e­fit of the in­dus­try in the UK gen­er­ally.”

He con­tin­ues: “It also keeps you sharp. It’s easy to get caught in your own bub­ble, but by in­te­grat­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with these new ideas, it brings fresh im­pe­tus into what else is go­ing on in the world for us and our part­ners.”

A more sus­tain­able UK

Wilson goes on to note that such af­fil­i­a­tions and in­volve­ment in em­bry­onic, ex­cit­ing start-up-gen­er­ated ideas re­in­stalls a cer­tain ‘new com­pany buzz’ that many present- day em­ploy­ees missed out on when Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing be­gan back in 2010.

A com­pa­ra­ble way to bring such emo­tions to the fore then be­comes di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, and the abil­ity to con­tin­u­ally rein­vent the busi­ness; al­beit in line with pre-ex­ist­ing, es­tab­lished, recog­nised at­tributes.

One such change of tack will see the Com­pany branch out into the man­u­fac­ture and sup­ply do­main in the com­ing years, once again capitalising on ca­pa­bil­i­ties that are al­ready present within the busi­ness.

“It’s not like we want to be a threat to Tier 1s from this per­spec­tive, but if we see a gap then we would cer­tainly like to be in it,” Wilson con­firms. “Si­mul­ta­ne­ously though, we are also work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with some Global Sys­tems Sup­pli­ers in this space, sup­port­ing them with their own roadmaps.

“Ul­ti­mately, we just want to see the UK be more suc­cess­ful, and with an en­gi­neer­ing ca­pac­ity that’s not fi­nite, we are will­ing to explore gaps in the sup­ply mar­ket should they arise, all the while help­ing op­er­a­tors al­ready in that space to im­prove their of­fer­ing as well. Our role is to help pro­duce a more sus­tain­able UK.”

Di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion is no mean feat for many op­er­a­tors of Wil­liams’ ilk and size, with flex­i­bil­ity and agility not the usual at­tributes of a large-scale provider. In this case though, the bal­ance of a large en­ter­prise in­flu­ence with small com­pany en­trepreneur­ship is still alive and well.

As the Com­pany grows and con­tin­ues its suc­cess, it both re­turns money to the par­ent com­pany and in­vests in it­self to sus­tain that growth.

This en­sures that the ul­ti­mate em­pha­sis al­ways stems back to con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment; an ad­van­tage in ra­pid­ity that is all the more piv­otal in the cur­rent cli­mate, rep­re­sent­ing an in­vest­ment into a nascent busi­ness lead­ing the way into a fledg­ling new area of devel­op­ment for hu­man­ity.

“It’s a re­ally ex­cit­ing time we live in even though there are a lot of threats, be­cause there’s so much devel­op­ment go­ing on,” Wilson says. “It has been said that there’s go­ing to be more devel­op­ment go­ing on in the au­to­mo­tive space in the next 10 years than there’s been in the last 50, and it’s quite true.

“But at the same time it could be a volatile pe­riod as well. You have to have your eyes wide open and know ex­actly what’s go­ing on be­cause quite quickly you can get it wrong and be out of touch. If some­one gets ahead of the pack in com­ing up with next best thing in bat­tery tech­nol­ogy - for ex­am­ple - it will then be a game- changer for ev­ery­body else.”

Voyage of dis­cov­ery

Wil­liams has never been one to shy away from break­ing new ground. Its re­cent Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing de­vel­op­ments are merely the lat­est in more than four decades of head­line-mak­ing suc­cesses de­riv­ing from the Com­pany’s glo­ri­ous his­tory in mo­tor­sport. And even if one strand of the sport­ing as­sort­ment is per­form­ing slightly be­low ex­pec­ta­tions, Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing’s more wide­spread con­tri­bu­tions en­sure that there is al­ways some­thing pos­i­tive to shout about; none more so in re­cent times than - aptly - its in­volve­ment in For­mula E. “For­mula E is a great learn­ing plat­form for us be­cause I re­mem­ber when the se­ries was first launched and we were pro­vid­ing bat­ter­ies, it was all a bit of a voyage of dis­cov­ery,” Wilson says. “We had a re­stricted time­frame and did as much test­ing as pos­si­ble, and our teams re­ally be­gan to push the bound­aries of how to al­most push the

bat­ter­ies to the limit and ex­tract the most per­for­mance from them.

“In turn, it pro­vided us with an ac­cel­er­ated plat­form to learn from and then ap­ply to other as­pects of the en­gi­neer­ing busi­ness too.”

Test­ing is one thing, but the proof of suc­cess has come from an in­cred­i­ble track record that in­cludes only two bat­tery-re­lated stop­pages in three-and- a-half years of rac­ing; both of which em­anated from loose con­nec­tors on bumpy tracks and all the more im­pres­sive given that each driver has two cars per race.

Wil­liams Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing’s tech­ni­cal part­ner­ship with the Pana­sonic Jaguar Rac­ing team in For­mula E mir­rors the spread of suc­cess that has largely driven the Com­pany’s evo­lu­tion over the past seven years, and is fur­ther epit­o­mised by a sim­i­lar part­ner­ship with Porsche and its Le Mans Pro­to­type (LMP1) pro­gramme.

Wilson adds: “Porsche had three back- to-back Le Mans wins and many of our peo­ple who work in F1 typ­i­cally, were able to revel in that suc­cess by virtue of their help­ing Porsche in our wind tun­nel fa­cil­i­ties. So, from a hu­man sat­is­fac­tion per­spec­tive, the same peo­ple that would love to see Wil­liams F1 re­turn to for­mer glo­ries, are still cheer­ing on in­volve­ment else­where. Whether it’s

thePana­sonic Jaguar Rac­ing For­mula E team, three cham­pi­onships in a hugely com­pet­i­tive world en­durance cham­pi­onship or in For­mula E, where all the cars are pow­ered by bat­ter­ies made by our team that have not had an on-track fail­ure in 24 con­sec­u­tive races, our peo­ple are still de­liv­er­ing rac­ing suc­cesses.”

So much af­fec­tion

Es­sen­tially, as it has al­ways done, achieve­ment comes down to fac­ing chal­lenges head-on and in lever­ag­ing an in­trin­sic will to solve the big­gest chal­lenges in con­tem­po­rary en­gi­neer­ing. It’s a dif­fer­en­tia­tor that not only main­tains Wil­liams’ sta­tus as a lead­ing op­er­a­tor, but that con­tin­ues to en­dear the busi­ness to UK as a whole.

Wilson con­cludes: “Wil­liams has a great name, and a lot of in­tegrity and ‘can-do’ that comes with it. It amazes me that to this day, af­ter more than 40 years in busi­ness, not a bad word is said about the name no mat­ter what is hap­pen­ing on the track at any par­tic­u­lar time.

“It’s been a hugely suc­cess­ful com­pany over the years but never in an ar­ro­gant way. Al­ways hard-fought, and that’s why there is still so much af­fec­tion for Wil­liams across all lev­els. And for us, it’s about in­still­ing this tra­di­tion into the in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions with which we con­tinue to at­tract cus­tomers.

“Our ap­proach fa­cil­i­tates long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ships, while our com­mit­ment to en­gi­neer­ing is en­cap­su­lated in want­ing to solve the big­gest chal­lenges out there, in a good, ef­fi­cient, ro­bust way. And that’s what we’ll con­tinue to strive to­wards in the fu­ture.

“We’re never where we want to be, be­cause that would mean stop­ping. We’re do­ing well, but we’ll never be­lieve that we’ve reached our des­ti­na­tion. There’s still more to do, in our fields there al­ways will be. That’s what makes our busi­ness so fas­ci­nat­ing.”

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