Maintenance & Facilities Management at Brompton Bicycle

Episode 8

Maintenance Management Podcast


About this episode

Brompton Bicycle, Iconic British brand (think folding bicycles) is the largest manufacturer of bikes in the UK. Philip Dewson who is the Head of Maintenance and Facilities at Brompton Bicycle shares his insight and best practices on maintenance management.


INTRO: Downtime, spreadsheets, communications problems, maintenance management, maintenance budget, predictive maintenance, reactive maintenance, CMMS Software.

Matt [00:00:29] Hi everyone. Today we’re joined by a fantastic guest Philip Dewson, head of maintenance and facilities with Brompton bicycles. Philip began his career by gaining a Bachelor of Engineering in manufacturing systems engineering from the University of East London, followed by a Master’s in innovative manufacturing from Cranfield University. He then moved into a role as a production supervisor with McCain on their graduate training program, before moving into more engineering management roles with Jordans Ryvita, Kolac snack foods and Crossip drinks. Most recently, Philip has moved away from the food production industry into his current position as head of maintenance and facilities with Brompton bicycles. So welcome to the show, Phil, how’s business?

Philip [00:01:21] It’s great. Thanks very much for having me. I’m really excited because I’m talking to you today.

Matt [00:01:25] Yeah, no worries.

Philip [00:01:26] So business is great in the bicycle industry. And those of you who ride bikes or probably tried to buy bikes over the last year with all the COVID scenarios that we’ve had going on, it’s been really difficult to get a hold of bikes and the Brompton brand is going from strength to strength. There’s a real cycling boom at the moment.

Matt [00:01:46] Yeah, I guess, has COVID impacted that? Obviously, I guess, people aren’t using cars as much because they can’t travel as freely. Do you reckon that is a factor?

Philip [00:01:59] Yes. So people are still really wanting the Brompton brand all over the world. There’s more people living in cities than ever have been. And with COVID people want to avoid public transport. So those people already living in cities are trying to choose bikes to get into work and being able to fold up a bike, take it into the office, take it into your house where people live in cities where space is at a premium as well, this really helps. So in terms of the business, COVID has had a positive impact externally. Internally, it’s been quite a ride I believe. I started with Brompton in November and I think lots of things have changed within the organization. One way system, social distancing. And it’s quite hard to start a new role when everyone’s coming disguised with a mask when you’re going around and trying to speak to people and build those relationships, and half the faces are hidden. I think it looks really good for Brompton as well.

Matt [00:03:00] Yeah, fantastic. Well, so can you tell our audience then what you do and elaborate a little bit more on that?

Philip [00:03:07] Yeah, of course. So I’m responsible for the production assets and the office facilities. So I’ve got the head office function and we’ve got the manufacturing of the bikes. So I’ve got a team of facilities technicians who work for me and a growing team of maintenance engineers. They look after the production assets. So paint plants, we’ve got jigs and fixtures, we’ve got CNC machines, we’ve got lots of hand brasing. And the facility’s had a bit of work. We’re trying to adapt and grow the organization and so there’s a huge influx of people coming to work with us, which is a really exciting time to be. So we’ve also got lots of facilities projects going on, to try and work out how we can best use the space and all the kind of flexibility that’s required for home learning. And I say that because I’ve got kids at home doing home learning and helping our team be able to work from home as well as come into the office when need be.

Matt [00:04:13] Yeah, that’s amazing. I guess that that really helps, especially if you’re a parent, right? So then how would you set a good maintenance culture in the business?

Philip [00:04:25] Well maintenance culture, I think it’s like an operations culture as well. You talked about where I’ve come from. I’ve been working in the food industry for 15 and a half years and then go to Brompton bikes, which is a much much different industry. So I think I’ll always be learning how to set that culture but I do believe that it starts with the team with the people who are there and kind of the culture of how the business operates at the current time. So I always talk about safety, talk about quality, and talk about productivity and maintenance. So they all go hand in hand. So the maintenance culture has got to interface with that. So it’s about having a good team who are engaged in helping to define what’s going on. I sit down with my team as I have done with the guys at Brompton and go through kinds of strengths, weaknesses and opportunities and threats throughout. But you know, basic SWOT analysis always pulls up some good conversations with the team. And they can help set their own culture, what they would like to aspire to be and that becomes the target and the driving force for all the work that we do.

Matt [00:05:41] Well, more often times than not maintenance teams go under the radar as unsung heroes in companies. So how can maintenance managers go about increasing the visibility and recognition of their teams within a business?

Philip [00:05:59] So to bring the visibility of the maintenance team within the organization, you’ve got to exactly do that. You got to find those things that makes the maintenance team kind of visible and appreciated. So some of the things that we’ve done quite quickly within Brompton, we had a dark dingy area around the CNC areas. And so working with the team, and with some contractors, we’ve got the lighting improved, and that is literally a visible improvement in the area. And tying that back to maintenance activities that — so we’ve got the operators who can do the first inspections and that can really tell us some of the problems and issues that are going wrong with their assets right at an early start. So by investing into the area, investing into the operators, and then tying that back to good maintenance practices and getting the information out of the operators at an early point, you can build a good store and there’s good relationships with the area managers and say, look, we want to get the team involved. We understand that with the challenges that you’ve got but let’s work together and get some of these maintenance activities ticked off. So it’s not great to have an asset down. But if you can plan it in with the area managers, and say, look, we want this asset down for a period of time, get this work done and then really promote it. So things like before and after pictures, I think are really, really important. You can, especially with digital cameras and high-resolution things, you can take some quite interesting images to be able to share with the maintenance teams and with others to show the good work that you have done. So I think that really helps to get the ball moving, and so that you can get some good momentum.

Matt [00:07:48] Okay, great. So then how would you go about planning, maintenance activities?

Philip [00:07:54] Planning maintenance activities, I believe is what it’s all about. And to do that, you need a really good maintenance planner. You need somebody who’s got experience with the culture on the shop floor, who’s got those good relationships with the key stakeholders. There’s got to be a passion for how the business works and how the business operates to be able to build those relationships and work out how best they can get maintenance time planned in. So they need to be close to the shop floor. And also the talking about root cause to people and really drilling into why things have happened to be able to say, okay, is the maintenance working at the moment, can we take things off? Do we need to add anything? So that critical look at the activities that we carry out as a team so they can have that kind of audit perspective. And so that it’s really got to be done by a really good person who can interface with the team. And he’s got good technical skills as well. We’ve got to use software to be able to plan what it is that we need to be doing. There’s a whole lot of data that needs to be looked at as well so we’ve got that eye on the data. And so it really comes to those individuals and planning that time. And we talked about it before around those kinds of cultural questions as well. It’s getting maintenance talked about right at an early level. So we get maintenance planning activities designed in really early on in the lifecycle of the asset so that we understand how much maintenance is going to be required and how much is going to be planned in as soon as that lands on site. You just don’t want an asset to land on-site, thrown in the keys over and then when you feel crack on, you go and maintain it. It needs to be planned out earlier on.

Matt [00:09:44] Yeah. So then how do you implement an effective maintenance plan?

Philip [00:09:51] It’s a good question because it does change on what the asset is and what the requirement is. I wouldn’t have said there’s a one way of doing it. So it’s not a single brush in. This is how we got into the maintenance plan over the whole of the site. One of the things I’m looking at for Brompton about the maintenance plan that we’re doing the moment, it started from a criticality view. So what are the assets that are most critical on-site? I’ve been working with a team of production guys, and with the manufacturing engineers, with my team, and we’ve got to be bringing in the quality engineers as well. So kind of a broad team approach to look at what the critical things are, both in kind of a scoring mechanism and also what is keeping the area managers awake at night? What are they worried about that’s going to go on and impact their production output. And then someone’s got to look at those critical assets, look at the common failure modes, what’s rotating, what’s moving high frequency, what parts of the machine are the operators interfacing with? Because where are the operators’ interface, that’s where you’re likely to get some failures. For us, we have operators put in stainless steel parts into the machines. So it’s asking, how could they knock them? What the clamping mechanisms are and things like that? So we have a look at criticality. And I think it’s important that we don’t over plan so that we don’t have a maintenance management system that is full of maintenance tickets, and we’re looking at it going okay, we’re maintenance planners. Where you’ve got a heap load of tickets, got a lot of planned maintenance but it’s not been done. So really, rigorously having a look at that to make sure that we’re not over planning and under-delivering?

Matt [00:11:43] Yeah. And so talking about planning, do you think software tools are useful for managing maintenance activities in a business?

Philip [00:11:51] Yeah. I couldn’t imagine doing planning maintenance activities without software tools to be honest. Yeah. So we’ve got the maintenance management software. And we’ve got the mobile phone app version that we’re rolling out, work request tickets that we’re going to be rolling out for the facilities team. And so anybody in the office, if they’ve got an issue, they can log on to the app, call the facilities technician or the production hall, if they’ve got a continuous improvement activity or a safety issue, they can also call one of the maintenance team. I think it’s absolutely vital for capturing the data. So moving into kind of industry for technologies and how we can be an interconnected factory I think is absolutely vital work. We’re starting to use Power BI, and also having a look at artificial intelligence algorithms that have a look at work orders as well so it’s all really, really exciting stuff.

Matt [00:12:51] Yeah. And so obviously, that’s kind of the new school take. What’s your take on the old school using spreadsheets for maintenance management? Do you still do that or what’s your kind of take on that?

Philip [00:13:05] Well, in the business, there are spreadsheets in place and reasonably active as I’ve been coming into the, into the process. And it’s a starting point. I mean, in Excel there’s not many technical people that can pick up an Excel chart, wack in a couple of numbers produce a graph, and you’ve almost got an incident report that other people can view very quickly. So they’ve definitely got the place. I talked about asset criticality, criticality registers in Excel. You can quickly add columns, you can quickly manipulate the data, sort things out into an order. You can put nice Conditional Formatting in. I’m a really big fan of Excel, but for planning complex maintenance activities, it’s not appropriate and then doing a lot of analysis and a lot of data, there’s much better ways of doing it.

Matt [00:13:54] Yeah. So they have their place. So how do you use maintenance then in business as a competitive advantage?

Philip [00:14:07] So if you think of Brompton bikes, and I suppose anybody listening doesn’t know if you go on Google, you’ll see pictures come up galore of people folding bikes and and it’s the mother of all folding bikes. And to be able to fold in the neat way it does, you need really good levels of quality, good tolerances, and that’s what gives it its uniqueness and its I suppose, its rugged Britishness as well. It’s really amazing piece of British engineering that’s made in Britain.

Matt [00:14:41] The first one in the world, is it? I mean I don’t know much about folding bicycles but is it the first one in the world made in the UK or was it taken from somewhere else? What’s the kind of history behind it?

Philip [00:14:54] I should probably know the answer to that. It’s the best one in the world without doubt.

Matt [00:15:06] It’s the best one. That’s what important.

Philip [00:15:09] It’s the Rolls Royce of folding bikes, without a doubt. And so to be able to get the fold, you got to have tight tolerances. And if we’ve got jigs and fixtures and machines and tooling that aren’t maintained properly, we’re gonna have non-conforming parts. And we’ve got customers riding these bikes next to vehicles on busy roads. If they fail, the worst could happen so we’ve got to make sure that we’re producing really good quality bikes. It will soon go around in the public space if we have mechanical issues with our bike, and people just won’t buy the bike. So it is, without doubt, good maintenance, you can draw a straight line straight to a competitive advantage.

Matt [00:15:58] Yeah, sure. And so what are your top three tips for our listeners, then on effective maintenance?

Philip [00:16:06] Three tips? I was going through this. I was thinking, I can list loads of different things that are good for effective maintenance. But the first thing that came to my mind was it’s the people aspects. It’s working together so it’s joining up with the operations team, quality teams and the maintenance teams together and knocking down those barriers so there isn’t any friction that you can have those heated debates, that healthy banter that is required and in the shop floor and in the facilities area. You want that kind of healthy tension but with the people working toward the same goal. And also I like to think of root cause. So we’ve always got to be thinking that, okay, why did this happen and how can we stop that from coming back? Even when I get down to the root cause as long as we start to think more than what can be seen in front of us and get rid of those assumptions. And it’s kind of aiming for perfection so the dream is to get to zero, unplanned downtime, zero accidents, zero quality defects. Is it attainable? Not likely. Things fail, and you got to run some assets to failure. We’ve got to have some quality issues somewhere along the line, but should we aim for anything less than that? No, probably not if that helps us and keeps us accountable and keeps us moving forward. So I say, working together thinking of root cause and aiming for really good standards.

Matt [00:17:39] Okay. That’s great. And so the final question here, then is what’s your favourite saying or quote on maintenance?

Philip [00:17:48] So, you know, I’ve found thinking this one of the most challenging things to think about. So I think it’s about a continuous improvement mindset really. So there’s one quote that I really like is, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, improve it, I really like that. So really getting into continuous improvement and finding something and leaving it better than when you found it. If you’re going into a workspace, you clean up behind you. If you go in and doing some maintenance on an asset, you leave it much better than where you found it. If you go into the facilities area and my team are walking around the site, I expect them to find things and leave it better than when they found it. So it’s about a mindset really and continuous improvement.

Matt [00:18:37] Wow. That’s fantastic. Well, thanks very much for being a guest on the show and dropping some serious knowledge there for our listeners.

Philip [00:18:47] Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure talking to you. Feel free to contact me.

Matt [00:18:53] Yeah, fantastic. Okay, guys. Well, thank you very much for tuning in again. It’s great to have you here with us and we’ll see you on the next one.

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