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Engineering excellence across space and time

Tim Edwards | 21 Jan 2015 | Comments

Aerospace is a global industry that demands the very best engineers and engineering. Even today, 35 years since I left school and became a part of this profession, I am amazed daily by the ingenuity shown in new aerospace products and the sheer engineering know-how and skill that is demonstrated in bringing those products to market.

This amazement stems not only from the technical excellence embodied within a piece of aerospace engineering, but also the social organization that is needed to coordinate the efforts of the thousands of engineers, often separated by distance, time and language, involved in the development of something like a commercial airliner.

Atkins needs to be no less rigorous in delivering its contribution to these massive aerospace programs. We, too, operate on a global scale, across different time zones, and immense distances. We, too, must deliver products of consistently high quality to customers whose practices and standards differ, but whose demand for excellence is uniform. We, too, strive to progressively improve our quality.

So how do we achieve this? I believe the answer lies within a global governance system that is unequalled in efficiency and maturity amongst our competitors.

Using the Atkins model, engineers from our offices around the world, including our Seattle office which we opened in 2011, all use the same quality systems and our designated checkers in each office are measured against the same standards and in the same way.

In each office, engineers speak with local representatives of our global network of discipline heads, who in turn liaise constantly with their local head of engineering and with their counterparts in other offices, to develop aerospace products of a consistently high standard.

Technology has a key part to play as well. Our new Engineering Gateway – an online technical knowledge sharing hub developed in-house – supports this global network of engineering and serves as our common point of reference for aerospace engineering approaches, methods and standards. This innovative tool sits on our common, secure IT system which is fully compliant with ISO27001 standards. It is also carefully partitioned, ensuring that the intellectual property of each of our clients is completely preserved, including sensitive ITAR data.

Global quality management is achieved through a common quality management system and by our world-wide use of desktop video-conferencing. The ability of any of our engineers to speak face-to-face with any other engineer removes the barriers of geography that would otherwise exist. As a result, achieving the common understanding necessary to attain a consistent standard has become a reality and has been witnessed in the success of our newest office in Seattle, which is already delivering high quality work to local customers.

Our international aerospace team services an ever more diverse customer base, but achieves a common quality standard throughout. This guarantees that our customers receive the same excellent engineering solutions from Atkins no matter where in the world it is delivered. Having teams in different time zones also allows us to utilise every hour of the working day, with one engineering team seamlessly picking up the work when another finishes for the day.

All of this lies behind the work we deliver for aerospace customers across the world. So next time you read about a major engineering project and wonder at the engineering talent that has made that a reality, spare a thought for the co-ordination involved in creating these incredible products by teams separated by different time zones and thousands of miles.