How Engineering Excellence Drives Everything We Do
Engineering excellence is a concept that has come to the fore in recent years. But how can it be defined? According to Tonya Mork, “an engineering team racks up wins and increments of excellence through our continuous work from idea to implementation and beyond”.
Comparing an engineering team to a sports team, whose excellence is demonstrated in wins throughout a given season, Mork says: “Our wins are measured in our performance to understand the client’s problem, the formulation of the solution strategies, and then ultimately through the entire prototype, build, test, and process.”
Heemeng Foo defines engineering excellence as “the pursuit of being excellent at the craft of engineering, being both efficient as well as effective in delivering delight to customers and in the process deriving pride and satisfaction from the work and the finished product”.
According to Alvarez & Marsal, ways of achieving engineering excellence include focusing on the customer by building a true understanding of must-have functionality for customers (over and above ‘nice-to-have’); and increasing the productivity of engineers by finding the most efficient way to allocate the right tasks to the right people, while avoiding short-term interruptions to reduce wasted time.
“In a nutshell, it’s more than just having the engineers,” says Alan Smyth, Engineering Manager at Hanley Energy.
“Engineers on their own don’t do engineering excellence, it has to be wrapped up and packaged up with the right controls, the right kind of risk mitigation, the right processes, and continually reviewing that to make sure that it’s always optimum to meet the needs at the time.”
Where excellence is concerned, Hanley Energy seeks to employ the best people.
“I look at problem-solving abilities,” says Smyth. “Technical skills are secondary; you can learn those from the experts.”
“It’s about training and experience, and hands-on experience. You have to keep the people long enough for them to become subject matter experts.”
Subject matter experts (SMEs) are key when it comes to engineering excellence. These are the people who are coming up with the logical evolution of any given system.
“Our customers are very innovation-focused, they’re continually evolving, they’re very open to innovation.” These ideas can come from focus groups with the customer or from Hanley Energy employees. The process is well rounded, with everyone being given an opportunity to float an idea.
“There’s a germ of an idea, but you’ve got to fit it around engineering excellence, it’s got to be accompanied by the processes, procedures, the risks, and all that, you can’t just go off on a solo run,” says Smyth, who invites staff to submit ideas that might improve matters for everyone.
“They don’t have to be earth-shattering ideas, just how could we make your job a little bit better?”
The lifecycle management of a product is essential. This includes everything “even from before birth”, such as individual components through assembly, factory acceptance tests, operation and maintenance. What happens to a product at the end of its life is also part of this process, including Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) status and Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) implications. Each product is tracked from beginning to end, right down to individual components.
Planned preventative maintenance
On a rare occasion that a component may last less than its expected lifetime, this should be noticed during planned preventive maintenance, which is determined by a product’s preventative maintenance schedule, suggested by the manufacturer but also governed by historical reliability data. This is also the time to implement any design changes or necessary component changes, rather than waiting for the customer to face any unexpected issue.
“It’s a cradle to grave service we provide,” says Smyth.
The Five 9s
One of the key tenets of Hanley Energy’s approach is the five 9s: 99.999% availability. This is achieved through engineering excellence, through a well-designed system with the right amount of redundancy and a thorough evaluation by SMEs of potential risks and how to avoid them.
“Five nines is not achieved through a single thing like good design or buying a super duper Rolls Royce product. Five nines is only achieved by having a complete package of risk management involved,” Smyth maintains.
Hanley Energy also prides itself on its agility. If a client requires a product that doesn’t exist, Hanley Energy can create something to meet that client’s needs. “That’s the kind of the service that we offer. We can be flexible, we can provide that high level of service, engineering excellence, that redundancy, we’ve the skills to give a complete service.”
“Your client can ring up and speak to me, the Engineering Manager,” says Smyth, “or I can speak to the Electrical Design Manager and we can decide to do something.”
Hanley Energy is in a sweet spot where the firm is big enough to be a significant player and be taken seriously, Smyth explains, “but not so big that it’s like trying to turn an oil tanker if you want to change direction”.
A sustainable approach
Data centres are often in the news for their energy use, with several companies attempting to counter this in some way. One of Facebook’s data centres, for example, is located on the edge of the Arctic Circle, and is powered by locally generated hydroelectric energy and uses natural free cooling from the outside air rather than energy intensive air conditioning units.
Google, meanwhile, claims to use less energy than other data centres by their approach to measuring Power Usage Effectiveness.
Hanley Energy has made efforts to offset its outgoings in that regard. In January 2021, they partnered with One Tree Planted with a goal of planting 250,000 trees by the end of 2025. For every global delivery the company makes, they will plant a tree in that area, with input on appropriate trees for the surroundings.
Furthermore, Hanley Energy partnered with two schools in Kingscourt, Co Cavan, encouraging children to take part in a ‘Biodiversity Buddy’ project by planting wildflower seed bombs, which help bees and other pollinating insects. This was part of a larger partnership with the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.
The Hanley Energy team has also built equipment to allow data centres to come off the grid during peak load times, mitigating the risk of power blackouts. “That embodies what engineering excellence is about. You need to wrap all that up in the usual process, so it’s all tied in.”
Returning to Mork’s sports analogy, Smyth cites the British Cycling Team’s goals: “It’s definitely a continual process improvement, I don’t think we’ll ever get there. We keep trying. We’ll never sit back and say ‘we’ve done it now’.”
To quote James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”: “If you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.”
And that’s how Hanley Energy approaches engineering excellence every day.