Episode #3 of Beyond Blueprints features Ben Anstey, the Director of Electrical Systems and Digital Experience for Volta Trucks. Volta's ethos was a clean sheet rethink for how to design and build a commercial vehicle.
Everything was up for up for grabs - from requirements and technology right through to rethinking who the customer actually was. As Andrew & Ben dig into the detail, you will learn about the role of process at Volta and how in many cases the key variable was agility and time to market.
Hopefully you find the chat as fascinating as we did & if you'd like to feature or offer any feedback, you can reach us at email@example.com
On another note, if you'd like to read the transcript rather than watching the video, you can do so here:
00:01.36 Andrew Welcome to beyond blueprints I'm Andrew Smith and today we're delighted to be joined by Ben Ansty who's a director of electrical systems at volta trucks great for you to join us today. Ben I wanted to kick off. You've got ah an illustrious. Cv I got to say to get to get the flattery in early could you tell ah us and listeners a little bit about your background in kind of renewable and automotive.
00:25.95 Ben Yeah, of course yeah hi everyone. Firstly thanks so much for letting me. Yeah, join this today and looking forward to it. Um, so I have had a career that's broadly stemmed, automattive and renewables I always been in tech startup and therefore small companies with kind of big dreams. Some of them have been successful some of them. Let's say. Um, but that kind of brings some of the kind of learning personally both technically and kind of professionally. Um so I started off in renewables doing photobotaic. So that's kind of the solar pv side of the industry back when there was lots of grant funding for for developing new products in niche markets. Um. That was a spin out of the university and had a great time there learn a lot about what it meant to be in a small organization and covering lots of things beyond your role re it. Um, sadly that unfortunately didn't make it into the production phase but we did get very very close um through that 1 door closed and 1 door opened and through a chance. Appointment through a friend I got into Mclaren automotive. Um, so a quick transition into automotive where I really didn't understand a lot about the technologies at the beginning but very much a great playground to learn a great bunch of people. Great technologies and so very fast and and in the time I was there we we launched over 15 products in that time which was just under 8 years
01:33.83 Andrew Wow.
01:37.10 Ben Went from being an engineer owning parts and you know solving problems daily to being the manager of the electronics department. But after our full remit of vehicles and and the portfolio of technologies moving forward and that was exhilarating um a lot of exposure there but I felt that personally I wanted to move more into kind of the ev space and so. The opportunity arose to join rivian who back then were a stealth company. No one had really heard of them and so I joined quite early on um, helped them through some of the early development of the ol 1 platform and the the Amazon product that's now running around on the roads and. And was involved in some of those kind of you know, key decisions the beginning building out the team understanding a bit about kind of how they designed lived products and the engineering processes that were then kicked off and have been carried forward. But as a covid kind of hit and the world changed and you know being in the wrong continent I ah. Ah, brought myself back into what I could do in the yeah uk and and found myself in volta trucks. Another fledgling startup completely different product but rive had given me that kind of insight into kind of impact and commercial vehicles which is completely different to passenger vehicles both in the way you approach the problem. But. Also in kind of what you what you can kind of do with the kind of product in its it's kind of impact to the planet and so vulture has been the last three and a half years of my life and from there I've kind of built a team and technology which I guess we'll discuss a little bit now today. Hopefully.
02:55.84 Andrew Yeah, amazing. Thanks for that Thanks up, potted summary and firstly I'm really interested and in the fact that you've you've experienced kind of both ends of the spectrum. The kind of the large organization I guess with mcclaren kind of large and established but rapid product growth and on the other hand. Ah, which I'm sure we're going to come on to. What it's like starting from absolute scratch and and growing the team. So I think you're you're a perfect guest for that and to jump in a little bit about kind of volt if those don't know so it's electric trucks for sustainable cities and and I was reading. It's the world's first sixteen Ton purpose builtil electric truck First question that came to my mind. And you alluded to it a little bit there. We're all familiar with ev cars. What are the unique challenges you face when making an ev truck.
03:41.66 Ben Yeah I mean broadly they have the same paragonm I mean you're still trying to electrify a power train and you turn out either take benefit from some of those opportunities if you do it ground up and some of them are challenges that need to be solved because it's quite a fledging technology and therefore some of it's not proven yet. Um. I mean 1 thing that's been true of all the companies I've worked at and it stayed true in Volta when we when we set out to deliver. The product is defining the problem you're trying to solve and putting kind of the customer-centric side of the design ethos first and Maclaran's good for that and it's where I kind of learned that and riv and continued that with its unique properties. But. Even in the truck industry. Um, you know we tried to set out and deliver something which was safe in an urban environment not through the use of technology at times just through the use of better design by innovating in a battery battery vehicle where previously you'd Convert. Um. We also looked at what it meant to be an operator and how the driver is. It's their office on Wheels and so how can you interact with the product differently. How can you? you know do a job but do it in a way that is enabled by the new platform fundamentally the big difference though is that commercial vehicle is not bought by a a single individual so you you move from a b to c type environment to a b two b environment. And therefore the question of who are you designing for and who are you selling to become separate and so it's a very different operation now where your fleet owner is thinking about total cost of ownership and they're a lot more driven by the cost of servicing the cost to buy and the cost of energy throughout the lifetime. All of those metrics become the total cost of ownership.
04:47.96 Andrew Ah.
05:04.79 Ben But actually the person you're driving the design towards is maybe the technician in the workshop make it easier to service or the driver as I said in the office environment or even vulnerable road users. You know you want you want to make a product which is safe for those cyclist pedestrians and all of that was what we were trying to achieve even if they're not the customer of the product.
05:20.46 Andrew Um, one other.
05:22.42 Ben So Commercial vehicles open my eyes to the whole different side of what you can design for but reminded me that actually it had a function and the function is to move goods from a to B and the sum configuration and so with all of the the technology and the jazz we were trying to kind of put into the product. Still had to be Competitive. It's still had to deliver on a total of cost of ownership model or just wouldn't pass the fleet manager test.
05:41.99 Andrew So it's It's really a more kind of nuanced customer environment then because you're trying to please multiple multiple kind of customer stakeholders in a way that is very different from that that consumer environment.
05:49.74 Ben Um, yeah, well again I make some similarities so I think you have to be clear on what you are and are not so we were in an urban distribution company. We were looking at a particular segment of payload and therefore it it naturally brings itself to different applications like it's not a fire truckck. It's not a. You know it's not a refuse truck and so you you have quite in one stage of a very narrow design field with which we're trying to hit but then within that any customer can use it for any operation. They might want refrigerated ambient or they might want talilessffs or not or it might be a completely different application that we've not considered so you have to be broad in your understanding of how it can be used to keep the options open. Quite focused on the product you are selling and and I guess in passenger vehicles. That's no different to when people make uvs you know an Suv has become a bell curve of it satisfies your school run it satisfies your ski holiday. It satisfies your dii runs but in effect it's trying to be a crossover where. Sports car at the end of the day is a very niche product with a very singular application and and and people buy vehicles for different reasons in that sense just like they do in the commercial vehicle sense too. So there's lots of similarities.
06:51.96 Andrew Yeah, sports cars less yeah goods from a to B just getting them there very fast.
06:58.68 Ben I Don't know we still had quite challenging targets around how many golf clubs you needed to carry because that's the demo rapid with which they got it I mean it's still a packaging challenge whether it's relatively small or it's relatively high payload near corn.
07:11.97 Andrew Still got to get a pet ah a set of those into the boot and great and I want to tap into that and broader experience of yours Ben because and going from concept to production very challenging what it takes to turn a great idea into. Ah, reality. That's that's practical and you've obviously operated in in this space in several different companies from the big picture perspective. How do you see that process concept of production.
07:37.30 Ben Yeah, so but first it depends whether you're an organization that has legacy and platform because it's much harder to approach this if you've got existing product or an existing organization I don't envy those companies that are trying to transform at speed and develop that's not an easy task I think.
07:48.83 Andrew Um.
07:54.65 Ben You know all the environments I've worked typically we've we've had a blank piece of paper and and that's allowed us to approach the problem we're trying to design for and then in my mind holistically it brings in kind of 3 things. Yes, you've got to have a good idea and that needs to be formed around what it is. You're trying to trying to solve. And you need to understand that because if you don't and everything else is kind of Borne out of very unclear vision. But then at the point you move into now delivering something then I've always likened it into kind of 3 different pillars that we're kind of trying to adapt to which is one is you must have the technology in order to deliver the problem and that. Sometimes is about integration Sometimes it's about solving technical problems or a combination thereof but you also need to have the people I mean the people at the end of the day are what make an organization and bring that technology to the forefront but process is one that the beginning of my career I used to see as quite a negative I was very anti-pro.
08:41.78 Andrew Yeah.
08:44.51 Ben But it slowed me down I didn't understand all these ideas and metrics and Kpi for Manager's tool. But in reality I've come to realize through doing this kind of a few times now. The well-organized process created by the teams that are using them in the purpose in which they need to be used. Then enable those amazing people to then do less of the process or at least less of the kind of the the repeatable heavy lifting bit to make sure they focus purely on the technical changes that lay ahead and um and ah and eventually when you move from concept into production some of those technical challenges become less Uncertain. Concept is all about uncertainty and trying to work out the best way to approach it when you're in the pre-production phase in theory you have quite a lot of certainty but your hurdles now are very much around kind of bringing a supply chain on board or bringing all that kind of complex data to stable reliable and that's when you benefit from all of that process that you put in place at the beginning. But it's about my understanding where you are on the lifecycle and what's fit for purpose for that stage the development cycle.
09:42.10 Andrew Yeah, it makes total sense with those pillars I do want to dive into a little bit more depths on each of those actually because I think that's a really neat way to to break it down. So first off let's talk about the technology. So and. I guess that's the first thing that comes to mind for most people. It's maybe the only thing if you're if you're not in the industry. You think it's just the technology challenge. You have to sort but you got to work out what you're building and I guess from prototype to mass manufacturer that can be a bumpy journey.
10:09.10 Ben Yeah, so again I kind of repeat there. It's got to know what you're trying to solve so in my mind, there's 2 things once you know the product problem you're trying to solve. It's easy to map certain technologies to that. You also need a kind of an r and d thread where you don't yet know what problem you're trying to solve. You're trying to explore the art of possibility in technology and that r and d thread may not always come to fruition. You might find an idea works but you don't know an application for it or an idea just doesn't land and therefore it's not the right route to take so you've kind of got these 2 threads coming into the concept phase where you've got. Maturing tech and you've got a problem that you're trying to solve irrespective of how you come about it I think once you know the problem you're trying to solve concept come can begin and at that point you're really focused on trying to and look at the different ways in which. Could go about it and sometimes it might be ah a boughtt solution or it might be an in-house vertical integrated solution or it might be a hybrid of these and and the balancing act is always trying to work out. What's the sweet spot for your organization and sometimes the driver is cost sometimes the driver is the control or quality that you want to achieve sometimes as it was for us at Volter. It was timingbased. Actually what we set out to do was and a product in a particular timeframe and therefore a lot of our decisions were born out of is that technology at a maturity level suitable for us to take it through the phases that we're back to face in order to hit our our masterstones moving forward and that was either to unlock ah a major investment round. You know, prove out a proof of concept.
11:34.30 Ben Or maybe to hit an engineering phase or hit a certification phase and so sometimes the technology decisions for us were born out of yes they must meet a set of attributes but they also have to be available and or deliverable in the timeframe. We've allowed ourselves or else that was a decision to move away from that approach or that technology. Sometimes it. It took us the other way and it took us into the realm of I need to do this in a short space of time the traditional tier one base will not adapt to our timeline and if they do They're not going to do it in the way that we want them to and it forced us to look at internalizing that design. So For example, the the warring harness is on a truck. You know there's kilometers of warring harness.
12:01.86 Andrew And.
12:11.76 Ben You weren't down a traditional full service room and went to a tier one and said I want to be a big project. You do the the design and you build a you support series that have wanted more years than the whole program. So then we then say well actually we don't have a design on day one we know it's going to take us a period to understand our own requirements and then all you're left with is. We'll have to design that inhouse so that then brings with it more people more different experiences for those people than you would perhaps have in a normal organization. But also what tool are you going to use and how are you going to bring that process to link to the the 3 d environment and then how are you going to build to print thereafter and it changed everything about what we did downstream born out of. First to market how long is the program that commodity takes longer therefore we made a make versus buy decision and we did that in a few places but they were always tactical if you could buy it and it was readily available. That's the route we would take if you couldn't we would invest in bringing up an in-house vertical because it was the necessity to integrate the product at speed.
13:02.69 Andrew Um.
13:08.77 Ben So technology is a tricky one but it was a balancing app.
13:10.54 Andrew And when it comes to that that make versus buy decision because I think and for all the engineers listening that's something we're all very familiar with that kind of that that balancing act when you're going through that period of growth are there ever times where you make the call and then on review later. Actually it's it's time to pivot away or over time. Do you just get better at making that call.
13:32.35 Ben Ah I think it's a bit of both There's no right answer to this I think you know people make mistakes and you've got to acknowledge those and pivot if you find you have with whatever date you had availabl at the time I liken it to decisions that are one way or 2 way. So if a decision is clearly one way and if you make that decision. There is no time left in the program to. To pivot then you might take a different approach on the amount of data you need or the amount of time you take to make that decision even if it comes with a bit of delay to the end of the program. That's a balanced delay because you're looking at it from a 1 ne-way decision if it's a 2 wo-way decision and actually at any point more data could come in and you could say you know what I could do this the other way or I could. Could change the approach then actually you might take less information to quickly make a decision so people can move forward and then from that you will decide along the way if you did make the right decision or not and we had examples of that across the program. You know whether we picked a supplier that we thought was um. Mature and we we believed in the interests of the program. They were mature and then later you find out with the data available. It wasn't and so maybe you have to then say it's it's a late time to change supplier but I can do this at this point I couldn't do it in three months time if I if I still believe we've made the wrong decision and so you you just have to pivot and react to the data.
14:40.47 Andrew Okay, and it's really interesting one as you were as you were talking there and I was thinking to buy your speciality particularly in electronics electrical engineering back when you were entering into the the food Ofvoltaic space to know I feel like and. I don't want to say we've got a better appreciation for electrical engineers. We Always appreciate them. But everybody's talking about them I feel like there's a huge demand for them now has has that meant that um, what's what's the question maybe before here I feel like in 2008 We weren't really talking a great deal about electronics whereas now it feels like everybody has an opinion on it has that made it a more challenging environment for you to get your kind of technical expertise across.
15:24.46 Ben No I mean again within an organization. It communicates both ways. So management I think is more aware of the need and therefore it's a bit more of a you know what are we doing about our software strategy or have we got enough software Resource. You know that the the terms float around because people are more sensitive to what is this underpinning Complexity. I Think the truth of it is though it's not.. It's not any single skillset. What I think is happening is the industry is becoming more complex and this isn't just automotive. It's It's Aerospace. It's satellites. It's it's It's all the different industries that are delivering complex systems of systems. It's gone from ah a world where you typically relied on a tier one and they provided you a complete solution. And it didn't really integrate that heavily I'm so I'm not underplaying it I Just mean the complexity is changing and now you as ah as ah end you know an oem delivering a product you have to think about it from the customer viewpoint which means you have to derive it in a systems engineering approach.
16:09.10 Andrew Um.
16:17.87 Ben It's not electrical engineers you need more of it's systems engineers you need more of it's processing devops Engineers you need more of it's software If you're going to take it on in-house. But if you're not taking on it-house you still need engineers expert in how to manage deploy and test software because you're still responsible for the end product and the quality that your customer receives. So. The broad term of electrical engineering. Yes I think is coming more into play but actually I think there are niche skillsets within the lifecycle of complex system development where you could come from mechanical background if you understand the the problems that I'm describing then you'll make just as good a systems engineer whether you can code or not. Or you can you know lay out a Pcb or not. You know you're still ah an effective engineer in the lifecycle of complex design.
16:59.50 Andrew Off the back of that. So I think you've spoken a bit about kind of the the what of the technology and that make by make versus buy decision when it comes to as you're scaling up the the where you actually source that technology from is that is that something you can speak to about what goes into. That decision as as the orders of magnitudes of of production change.
17:20.94 Ben Yeah I mean every company's different. So I mean I kind of give you my views of what I've I've been exposed to or we've we've known. But um, you have to think about your manufacturing location. You have to think about where your partbase is coming from because there's lots of imports and taxes and all the rest of it come from the current geographic situation. We find ourselves you have to think about.
17:25.71 Andrew Yeah, yeah.
17:40.17 Ben If you're scaling and are you always going to build in that facility. Are you' going to end up with multisites because that might change some of your or any decisions. So Jaw sourcing. For example, you know is it okay to have a single source on a single part or do you need to think about from the beginning jaw source or is that something you can tackle as ah as an afterthought because actually the design is what you're focused on and then multiple ways to achieve it. I think all of these come into your decision-making process at the point at which you're nominating a supplier some some ims will want all of that information upfront, but it requires a longer period of of understanding before you make some of those decisions and that's not bad or right and it's not good or bad It's just a different way of approaching it. But if you're willing to make fast decisions you have to understand the risk you carry. In the event that one or any of those things change in the future and so you need to you need to map it the other way in that sense if you then want to locate yourself in another consonum. Are you going to repeat the contract 1 manufacturing model. Are you going to repeat your supply base or are you going to encourage your current suppliers to invest in ah, another geography because that. You know reduce your imports and so forth. So it's there's no right, answer there's just a business wide kind of how do you approach the decision matrix and what do you weigh into your your decision making process beyond technical.
18:46.22 Andrew Yeah, and I guess being being willing to to go back and reevaluate and not just get kind of stuck to stuck to a decision in the early days and I'm keen I'm keen to ask and you know feel free to and plead the fifth or this one Ben. But if you've got any specific. Examples of those those issues and solutions in that technology scaling from from concept to production from and your your direct experiences in in the companies you worked in.
19:14.80 Ben Yeah I mean probably a nice one which was quite unique to the the experience that we had at volr is that we we happened to start the company and age duringing the pandemic which gave us a big challenge anyway, in terms of recruiting and scaling in ah in a remote environment but that was 1 challenge the the problem we found quite quickly when we got going is that. Business was facing an unpreed amount of regulation change. So automotive hasn't typically changed a lot year on year until more recently when the general safety regulations came in and. Vehicles are getting a lot more regulated for good reason you know they are bringing a lot of safety requirements that make just passenger vehicles commercial vehicles and buses alike just safer really for both the driver and vulnerable road users. This is a good thing for the industry but it's happening quite quickly and versus previous changes which might have been much more kind of. Akin to a mechanical design shift. These are not simple features to add. You know these are things like blind spot monitoring. They're emergency braking systems. You know they are they're things. We're all aware of from our passenger vehicles but the delivery of these are not not straightforward what we found at vulter is that we were coming at the problem at a point when this was cutting over. And if we delivered on our current Timeline. We would be the wrong side of the change and if we tried to do it this side some of the technologies weren't quite ready so one of the biggest changes we face and it really was Jeopardy for the business was can we certify whole vehicle certify.
20:25.48 Andrew Um, and I.
20:36.60 Ben What I felt like was an unprecedented amount of time. So from a standing start. We achieved that in less than 18 months we did it completely with the regulatory bodies involved and our technical advisors and the the groups that were there to interpret for us and help us understand what it meant to certify and we therefore in effect like it's kind of like a um deconstructed eton mess. You know, most people would do all the development sign the product off and then they would go and just apply for certification on a on a finished product but we had to do it the other way around which is to say what are the elements of certification and what is it that you need to demonstrate and instead of having one asset in effect that you could do it on you'd have ways of demonstrating that the system was compliant. Steering to breaking to our Hv systems. Whatever it might be and we we pieced all this together with the support of our um, our regulatory team and our independent advices and we did achieve so it went from being a problem that would have put the business into jeopardy if we didn't achieve it. Um and we actually struck that within 48 hours of the cutover and that locked in our whole vehicle type approval and thus allowed us to continue for the next two years under that that kind of design authority.
21:37.87 Andrew Well must have been a bit of a seat of the pants moment I've also written written down for future reference deconstructed eat mess I thought a neat mess was deconstructed already. But I'm I'm going to Nick that as a re a reconstructed eat.
21:46.87 Ben Um, um, is you probably get right? No and and recent mess to deconstructive Pavlo isn't it and you should know.
21:57.22 Andrew Yes, yeah, well that yes my I I do love a baked analogy and it is. It is no and a great example there so moving from the tech pillar The tech is great. But if you're going to hit a deadline I got 48 hours to go you' never been done before eighteen months you need a cracking bunch of people. To do that job and you looted yourself. You started off kind of in the engineering side and then you had to get more into this people domain. Um, what was that like casting your mind back to when you kind of first started taking on people responsibility. What was that learning curve like.
22:31.75 Ben Steep um and full of full of failures on my part with lots of opportunities for public refraction. Yeah, my cameras kind of zoomed out me a little bit and again.
22:37.60 Andrew Tell us about all of those tell us about. It looked like it was giving you anonymity there like those kind of yeah backlit documentaries.
22:48.31 Ben yeah right so um yeah I mean the the very first opportunity I had to manage. Um, you know I I wasn't provided a huge amount of support and I and I had responsibility to deliver but not much support in how to kind of get best at people and so. You know I've I've made this claim publicly before you know, but those individuals stood by me and they gave me a lot of support a lot of freedom where I suspect I could have you know I could have could have been judged differently 1 of the hardest things I found is that I came up a vertical and that vertical I understood and I could talk to the individuals responsible because it was my background. And it. It allowed me to get closer to or further from depending on which way you want to look at it anything involving those the other technologies I I felt exposed on a personal level I'd always been someone that wanted to understand something before I could converse in it and it took me ah probably a couple of years to realize that I wasn't the expert I also shouldn't be the expert and I didn't need to be the expert.
23:36.50 Andrew Um.
23:43.80 Ben And I think once I had that kind of revelation I realized that my interactions with the individual responsible was much more around qualifying have I been clear on what it is. We need to do you know, have you got any questions about what it is. We need to do and are you giving me confidence that you understand and you've got a plan and a week kind of you know. Transactionally supporting each other through the next period and and when risks came up I was more reading the person and their reaction to the problem than whether I necessarily understood how severe it was and and so it became very quickly. It became apparent that at a certain level. You're responsible for managing personalities and each person is different. They approach information differently.
24:02.90 Andrew M.
24:17.00 Ben Um, and so it was less about being a technical expert and actually I start to realize having smarter people around me as as the cliched statement always is actually protected the organization more than trying to be the smartest person in the room. Um. But I did though managed to as a personality trait learn from these individuals and I would always try and understand a bit more about their world to get a bit closer to it to the point where I was less intimidated even if I still couldn't do it myself. I've just tried to carry that forward really in terms of how I how I think about building teams and recruiting people and and. And and allowing them to be expert and what they're expert and to communicate with me and where they need help not the other way around. Not not chase them.
24:53.77 Andrew I Think that's that's a really good insight because ah certainly speaking from my own engineering experience and I know a lot of those listening will relate to that as well from maybe being in kind of a specialist you get to the stage where you're starting to pick up more of the kind of the people domain of responsibility I think people really struggle to make that change by not having to. Own all the technical knowledge and I've seen it before people just get overwhelmed. They're they're trying to cover everything and then the plates you know, start Dropping. So I Think that's really solid um piece of advice.
25:18.40 Ben Um, yeah, but it looks for the other side of that as well. I think once I realized that side the other but I realized is you're not always, but you're the interface to the other part of the organization at times it depends on how you structured your team. But Somly now you have a different role which is. You have to be clear on what is being asked because it's not always clear. It's not It's never defined in a way that tells you exactly how to lead the team and therefore if you don't understand or ask enough questions doing your job then also you're not cascading the right information down. So again, you can create a different problem by being ineffective in what you're responsible for now irrespective of whether you've handed. Back that that kind of technical responsibility. You know you never look up. Yeah, exactly.
25:56.64 Andrew Yeah, if you spend all your time looking kind of dawn The the the organization. Yeah, really really? and yeah, really really useful Insight. So and see've, you've kind of been thrown in at the deep end come out of it on top so to speak. Now moving on into kind of I guess and you know some of those smaller companies you are having a really major influence on how those organizations grow at that point and you start to think but how you're how you're building a team from scratch.
26:26.34 Ben Yeah, and you know one of the things that I've personally tried to do is not not put myself into the position. What I'm responsible for until the last minute So The early days at volter I remember being with a group of people but very responsible for how do we want this organization to be built like what tools do we want to use collectively not. What do I want to use when my team need to use and I think from that we took as long as we could We staved off this idea that there was this kind of you know, old old-fashioned way of doing things because that's always been done that way and we enabled us to take bit more of a kind of ah a holistic view of the type of organization type of culture. The type of way of working. Eventually, you need to fill in all the different organizational pillars and people became responsible and you handed the tasks over and then what I was left with was effectively what my job role was but but up until that point I had kind of an equal and opposite share in trying to form what it was that we were doing as much as it was how we were doing it and then I kind of. Pivoted back into doing my my piece but I really enjoy that and I think it's because I see more and more in in the ways in which things are working really well until you get to the point where it touches someone else's world or someone else's interfaceal system and then it just kind of locks horns and and it's only unfortunate because some. Someone didn't sit down and architect them both at the same time. But even if they didn't flesh out the details. They just didn't see that these 2 processes end up meeting you know eventually concept meets production eventually issues in test meet production and if you think about it in the view of the whole piece then actually it's quite a simple web.
27:56.18 Ben Then you fill in the details to make the day-to-day processes and tools that then deliver upon that organizational output.
28:00.68 Andrew Yeah, yeah, and before we before we go on to touching on our our final P the process and I've heard it said before you know and some people who are kind of working those engineering companies early on they say the most important. Role I have apart from some of the technology stuff we're doing is making sure I'm bringing in the right people because that will then just define everything that happens how how much importance did you find you were you were putting on that when you were scaling up a team especially in those early days when it's you know a really small team size.
28:34.72 Ben Huge amount and one of the things you got to remember is you you earn a culture you create a culture. You don't define a culture and so yes, it's somewhat intentional in the way in which you behave you can you can steer a culture with some intentional values I mean rivian did this really well and they would put a lot of effort into it before they even recruit it. But. You. You basically as you start recruiting if you're 10 and you high 10 people fifty percent of your company doesn't understand your culture yet and they're looking to you so they actually become the culture without you knowing it and so you've got to be very careful that you bring it up 1 of my old colleagues used to say you know it's like a bathtub and you don't want to put lukewarm water in it's cooling bath. Want always put hotter water in the bathies and bring the temperature up. Otherwise you're just going to naturally cool that down so effectively I put a mass amount of emphasismesis into it and part of that was about considering the organization that I needed to build and the the kind of the verticals within which the the competencies needed to be and then I recruited.
29:17.53 Andrew That's a great analogy.
29:30.44 Ben From the top down and I mean that in the sense of I went and found the hands-on technical manager who could on day one do the job while they were finding the people but also they were capable of building the team under the vision that together we would set out yet to be defined and that meant that actually I wasn't building a team and then putting managers over the top. I was trying to say you are going to be responsible for pick a topic I don't know cyber security or architectural design or harness design. You are going to emulate and be that culture within the wider piece and therefore your your understanding of what we're setting out to do and your way of communicating is more important to me because everyone that follows is going to follow from. You is. It's gonna kind of. Evolved from that sense and so at the beginning I put a huge amount of time into the first time of of recruitment but I made it clear that you are not managers of a team to follow. You are an individual who contributes to the business from day 1 owen you've got to go and help me build a team around you as the team grew quite quickly. Um, so it grew from just in my area 1 kind of backing Jan 2021 to about one hundred and forty um over the next two and a half years um you know I couldn't be involved in every recruitment exercise but I did put value in terms of the final interviews and I would have always a kind of a touch point to have a kind of a meet to make sure that that individual could communicate and was comfortable being in the business because. That was my last touch on. Are you going to come in and continue this cultural journey that we're on or are you just coming because you want to join the startup journey and I think for the most part we we brought in a lot of people who genuinely wanted to be part of something different and they were willing to invest in it themselves.
31:00.56 Ben Um, and that that showed through in the way they were willing to accept us and and and add value whether it was in their own discipline or you know tangential to them.
31:09.40 Andrew I'm definitely going to remember the bathtub analogy because I think often I think that's where I Lu big organizations. Get it wrong. They just say well if if we just decree that the culture is changing then it will happen but and the bath's already been filled at at that point so you've got a.
31:20.89 Ben Are.
31:24.32 Andrew And you've got a lot more work to do at that point and let's come on and to that that final pillars. We've talked about Tech we talked about people process Sometimes you alluded to this a little bit earlier as well sometimes considered a bit of a dirty word, especially when you think of kind of bigger organizations brings you know. Bureaucracy and things to mind but clearly an essential part of it if done right? How How do you go about making sure a process is fit for purpose.
31:50.24 Ben Well I don't think anyone will claim to ever have got it right? The first thing that I would say is that my my view on this now is that people talk about tech roadmaps. It's ah it's an easy buzzword to use and it means a lot in those disciplines. Should also be talking about tools and process roadmaps and we should see devops and the the idea of a kind of ah a north star or a horizon view that you never achieve is just as applicable to how you develop your tools and processes and you either bind things off or add new ones or you evolve them and it doesn't mean to just every program put them in the bin and start again. You should treat it like a technology and you should see it as a continuous development opportunity. So I think once you frame that as your kind of approach then you can't really get it wrong other than you just have to be aware of constantly looking at its its opportunities to improve or its downfalls and react to them so that's the first thing. The other thing is I think for me. Appropriateness is again the right thing so at the beginning when there was only 10 of us all that mattered was the first thing we write down. We didn't write into Ms. Word because once you start writing an Ms. Word. Everyone will write an Ms. Word or if you're going to start and don't put it in excel you know because everyone I'll put it in excel. So at the very beginning you can make some very appropriate decisions and even if the tool you pick is not.
32:54.82 Andrew Classic.
33:01.86 Ben Tool you end up using for whatever reason at least you set out with an an initiative to say I'm going to try and use the right tool for the right problem I'm trying to solve today and then I'll again make awareness of that that devops road process roadmap process the the other thing is then small things like. Most organizations have gateways. It's quite common term and the gateway by its very nature suggests. You're going to go no go on a gate. Well if your goal is to deliver in a timeline or as fast as possible. You're not actually going to stop. So don't call it a gateway I know it's a bit of a cliched kind of nuance. But. It's more of a framework now a framework within which you're going to measure your status and at any point be able to interpret on or off track risk and then decide if you're going to do something different or carry on or retime or recost or redefine the product. So for me thinking about things in terms of like general rule sets. Framework allows you to then when you get to the actual nuts and bolts of the process that process isn't the first thing that people pick up the process is the way you enact upon the day-to-day within a framework which is within an ethos and so if your ethos is set out to not be process- driven. You'll end up on a very lean process that still controls your business. But it's a process at the end of the day you know we are building product to 9001 or a another you know I say standards you can't get away from the fact it needs to be demons. Demonstrateable auditable repeatable. But that doesn't mean it needs to be cumbersome or or overly complicated if if that's not the type of organization you're in I think you just need to have.
34:29.50 Ben Interest in it and drive it like we are other technologies.
34:30.69 Andrew Yeah, treating it like technology Really interesting inside. Are there any and examples where you've seen something and you've like I we need we need to change this. This is this is not working not fit for purpose where it's really acted as a blocker.
34:46.69 Ben Yeah, quite few and I'll be careful not to name companies or anything of this because um, every company Every product is good for its own reason. Um, you know you often find as a startup you you jump into bed quite quickly with a big company because they offer most of what you need at the gate.
34:50.40 Andrew Yes, yeah, yeah.
35:03.54 Ben But at that point you don't know exactly where your company's going so by which time they've got you into the toolchain and you're not too sure where you're going to go and you find yourself in a bit of a difficult challenge. So you know a classic example that is kind of your peerlem tool like the product lifecycle management tools. You know they're they're designed for you know. All organizations of all sizes invariably. They require you to use all of the tools that within there they work better if you do but at some point you're then predetermining all your business processes around how it works out the box unless you've got millions of pounds and years of development to tweet them. So you know we we had a situation where we couldn't get out all to do exactly what we wanted. So. You know insert new tool we happen to use the avasian suite and the jira tool set now. Jira is great for software development. It's great for kind of managing agile sprints and kind of you know, storyboarding and resource management but actually in the same way you open excel and you do all sorts of things more than just finance. Jira is a blank workspace. Just an intuitive database if you understand what you're doing and so we built from the ground up a kind of a Jira interface to our Plm tool which meant users interacted with a common interface. They understood how to do their job day-to-day and to end but it was in the back end it was connecting with these robust big big machine tools and then it was kind of. Taking that away from the user. So any of the constraints we had in the big tool we were handling in these agile tools that we could iterate fast and we could do it for releases we could do it for issue management. We could do it for change control. Whatever it might be um and we we curated quite an ecosystem.
36:22.36 Andrew Past.
36:32.94 Ben Because we had the mindset to say this is what we want our business to be running like and here's a tool that we can adapt not how does Jira work or how does a another tool work.
36:40.19 Andrew So the key there being even if you're even if you're stuck with kind of a larger kind of heavier tool thinking about the user journey within the company you you can still make it better without exposing them to all the features that you're not using.
36:56.59 Ben Absolutely and and don't forget that users aren't just your own product. Users customers are also your engineering team who are being paid a lot of money to do a lot of work to get you to the end goal. So if you've got a tool that is absolutely alien or it requires high training or you only use it once a month and you never know how to do it. You end up recruiting an army of people just to process data at some point the mate versus bi and that's my 1 highest example is such that actually having 2 or 3 heads developing an internal quick quickly modifiable tool and you push out. Updates every few weeks is a much more lean way of running when you've got a problem and you just divorce the the back end from from the front end and then your users be get a more familiar environment with each interact users being engineers at this point or or manufacturing or whoever.
37:41.73 Andrew Yeah I've I mean I've definitely been in teams before we've worked out the kind of the the human cost time of getting every trained up on something and thinking Gosh reason we said no to that tools because it cost X amount. But if we've got it in we would because ah engineers time.
37:55.60 Ben Um, yeah, but yeah, they know that I remember I remember talking to 1 company where they you know they had the best tool and when I said I'm not going to pick you they said but why we're best in class as you are, but the the entry point for a user.
37:57.40 Andrew Stacks up pretty quickly.
38:08.75 Ben And I want everyone in the company to use it which is what surprised them they thought I took to have a niche set of engineers who are always using tools like this and I said I want everyone to use it right? and therefore that tool is too scary for them I need ah I need a lighter tool even if it's not as powerful today and I'll help them get more powerful because that's the kind of journey I'll take them on. Instead of going with a tool that's fit for purpose today but I won't get everyone to use it a great tool not being used. It might as well not be you know on your on your service.
38:34.49 Andrew I'm sure there's lots of engineers listening vigorously nodding along to that because we it's some everybody will have a tool that comes to mind I won't I won't name in shame. But yes I think you're you're ba all the money there and so thinking about those 3 those 3 pillars tech people process. Concept to production thinking bigger picture even still how do you think engineering has has changed since you first started your career to the point that you're at today.
39:01.86 Ben Yeah I mean I kind of alluded to earlier and maybe I'm coming it from quite a systems approach but complexity has increased Now. There's always been problems and there's always been complexity but I think the type of problems we've been solving in a kind of. Designed to a kind of a production environment are quite methodical and therefore the changes in the technical change not in the the way in which we work I Think what's happening now is that for companies to still be competitive. Not delay the launch of products they need to approach the problem completely differently which is everything from how they organize themselves the way they work. Um, and so the idea that you can now just kind of have a team that responsible for elements of the bill of materials and that they are responsible for their budget or whatever it doesn't anymore translate when you when you talk about a customer feature. Ah, customer features not owned by department X or department Y. It's owned by parts that they may own but the software might be over here the wiring might be over here The mechanical actuator might be over here but the customer just heard I've got adaptive fruits control. Well the customer heard I've just got heated seats. And and so I think the way in which we think about enuring a product now and I'm talking about automotive but it could apply to any discipline is you need to understand again. What problem you're trying to solve and can you really cost or understand the value of that effort's going to be because if you can't Why is that product doing that feature if it's just because it's always done that feature challenge the status quo.
40:22.42 Ben Um, and I think the mindset shifting now in terms of what Customerss really want and what what is the point of sale and what is the post point sale and how how do you think about engineering lifecycles has completely changed it used to be a design to a production then an end of life. Now. It's the design to production which is the launch of a platform and then there's these ecosystems in which we talk about software defined vehicle or applications and services that continue on long after the customer has taken owner ownership of the product which is completely different to how it used to be completely Different. You have to talk about the problem differently as well.
40:41.30 Andrew E.
40:48.96 Andrew Yeah, it's not just seeing something sail away out of the 4 court. It's It's a real kind of fool and yeah, thinking about how it's going to be used throughout the lifetime and I think you're right think that is completely completely Changing. No I compared it to it used to be out of sight out of mind I think a little bit you know, but back in the back. The.
41:09.94 Ben Um I made you money on the servicing schedules which you're not trying to make that your business model but it was a very healthy business model and I think it but my my point changes every part of the Organization. So product have to think differently yeah manufacturing have to think differently it and Compliance have to think differently doesn't matter which part of the organization you're in. That that shift is having an impact on all parts of your organization and and as a management team are you aware of that and are you making significant changes. We talk about devops Roadmaps you've got organizational roadmaps that need to be supporting this as well. Even if it's just to get from you know combustion engines to battery electric. It's not the shift in battery electric that drives this. It's the next generation of vehicles or products that then means what else are you unlocking, but you that you are thinking about in the pipeline but you're using that product to to kind of open that ecosystem up.
41:57.92 Andrew Yeah, a really really good point and I I want and because I wish we have more time but ah, there's 2 kind of future facing questions I would like to ask 1 electrical specific and 1 a bit more general first one and obviously last decade electrification has had. Sweeping impacts in a lot of aspects of engineering particularly in in transportation which is your neck of the woods. How do you see? you know in in the future What do you think kind of are the big next challenges to kind of overcome in in the transport space when it comes to electrification. What do you think are going to be the juicy problems. This next generation of electrical engineers are going to be tucking into.
42:33.48 Ben Well I mean if we specifically talking about electrification then so the the big change is the initial one which is to move from kind of combustion a point of of use to to the model where you're using electricity in some fashion and that that is already a change whether it's a battery electricric vehicle or a hydrogen vehicle or technology you know and under development I think once you move to having electric. Supply of the propulsion system then you've already done half of the heavy lifting right? We can argue all day long about whether battery electric vehicles today and all their sustainability and raw materials. But it's not got the same amount of development as has the hundred years gone by of and of combustion engines right? So in the same way. There's a rapid development now both in the kind of technologies and batteries. Technologies and propulsion systems and then you you start to look at not linked to electrification but the ability to have connected vehicles that are now modern day equivalents because we are where we are in the industry connected vehicles with electrification gets quite interesting because now you can start to think about how energy is used and vehicle degree starts to come into it and.
43:22.62 Andrew This.
43:32.76 Ben Charging will become the next problem and whether your vehicle is actually an asset to you stored on your drive beyond just the asset today where it's used i't know I think the sta has about 3% of the time it's in motion or even that the rest of the time. It's a dormant asset. You know, suddenly this asset could become a workforce for you even when you're not in it and you start to unlock all sorts of opportunities.
43:51.81 Andrew And.
43:51.88 Ben Which weren't there in the Comba Engine model. Um, so I think yes, we're transitioning. Yes, It's early days and yes you know there's a lot of challenges mainly around is the charging infrastructure ready let alone the vehicle build themselves. But I do think once you tip into that form of technology you can move to Hydrogen. It's still an electric Motor. You can move to another solid State batteries. It's still an electric motor and you've made that transition away from Fossil fuels.
44:15.65 Andrew We've got all these kind of massive batteries set in our drive now that we can start to think about kind of storage differently. It's not just a vehicle take you from a to b.
44:24.87 Ben Um, when you think about and you think about the bigger ecosystem like renewables into the main grid the national grid you know wind doesn't stop at night but we're not using energy. You can't store Ac so suddenly you're going to rely upon these charge nodes to actually absorb that energy that you' you're generating and you don't know what to do with or you could use it to make green hydrogen. You know there's.
44:34.29 Andrew Um, only.
44:40.73 Ben So many opportunities when you move into this space where efficiencies as we saw them before are less relevant so long as it's converting to electricity and then used as electricity in the way in which we we propel ourselves.
44:49.41 Andrew Yeah, it's a very fun problem. That's for sure and my final question to you and you can you can pick at this any angle you like is what are you most excited for at the moment in the world of engineering what kind of gets you out of bed in the morning and. Either inside the world of electronics or or more broadly.. What are you optimistic about.
45:10.84 Ben Yeah I mean I don't think now is perhaps any more different than perhaps ten years ago or twenty years ago it's just we sit in the moment looking forward and I think you know as asarja scan revenue used to say you know the internet was quite predictable in the 90 s it's just how and when would we have it in our pockets or at home and.
45:19.65 Andrew Um.
45:28.86 Ben How are we going to use the data. You know? So probably. We're not really sitting on anything different right now except I think there's a lot more understanding now of how cross-pollination of industries and technologies works and I think that's going to open doors to things where previously aviations worked in 1 way automotis worked in another transport and trains have worked in another and I think. Actually the commonality now is that they're all they're all providing a customer-centric function and the more you think about the customer use case the more you can design the solution share technologies joint ventures will start to come into play you know. It's no longer the case that you need to you know, build your own engine. You actually want supply of these parts and therefore the product is what customers are buying not the battery in in effect and so it's it's completely changing the way we think about the the ecosystem and so I'm excited about the fact that I guess we don't yet know what opportunities around the corner. But. Think services and kind of the move to kind of more subscription- based and you know models that we've yet to even think about which seem unbelievable right now. But so did Netflix at the time when it was blockbuster video and so I think that that same shift is due to happen in all sorts of areas not all but I think that. That's around the corner and and it's those that are dreaming. It are going to make it reality even if a few fail on on the way because once we have it in 10 years time we'll look back and say well it was obvious but you know everything is obvious afterwards.
46:42.14 Andrew Yeah everything's obvious in hindsight and that's that's a great note for us to end on Thanks so much for your and candid insights today Ben I feel like we've been able to kind of pick from around your bit of experience around the patch and um, some really yeah deep. Deep knowledge there with those 3 pillars tech people process. You can't do it without any of those 3 and thank you so much Ben and yeah, best of luck in the future. Cheers.
47:05.40 Ben Um, thanks Andrew all the best. Thank you.
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