Enough power for a country

One of the joys of this job is the privilege of seeing what companies actually do.  Last week I exercised that privilege at the Perkins factory in Peterborough.  Perkins, which is part of the Caterpillar Group, has recently been successful in both our Low Carbon Vehicles and High Value Manufacturing competitions and they wanted us to see what they would be doing as a result. 

As is usual with these visits, I first learned something of the corporate ethos.  Caterpillar seems to be unique amongst its peers in that it is still making a profit during these turbulent times.  There seem to be a couple of reason for this.  One is that the engines and machines components of the business operate on different business cycles and are out of synchronisation with one another.  During an economic downturn this means that one is going down whilst the other is still going up from the last cycle.  The second is that they were prepared for the downturn, and implemented their plans swiftly and effectively.  The flip side of this second approach to strategy is that - whilst at the bottom of the economic cycle - they are preparing for the future by investing in research and development.

Next came a tour of the factory - it is astounding.  At just under 2,000,000 square feet, it is among the largest factories I have walked around. Perkins have been in Peterborough since 1932 and the factory produces engines with power ratings from 5 to 2600 horsepower - 400,000 engines a year and all are effectively customised into small runs.  The core engine comes in various swept volume sizes but then in 2, 3, 4 and 6 cylinder versions.  The ancillaries are customised to enable the full engine to fit into the available space, be easily serviced and so on.  I don't think I have ever seen so many computer controlled milling machines in one place - I gave up counting at 40! - and the assembly line is a thing of hyper-efficient beauty.  The final aspect I noted - and this is a function of having once worked for a man trained in the Du Pont manufacturing excellence approach - is that the place is spotless.

 Good factories depend on the people that work in them and, once again, I saw the signs I recognised from years of having good practice drilled into me.  Each bay showed the process, the performance statistics, the continuous improvement tasks and so on.

 The statistic that stuck in my head was that the Caterpillar Group produce engines with a total power output of about 50 gigawatts a year - and the UK only consumes 42 gigawatts.

 At the end of the day I think I had learned enough to be truly impressed and to build on our growing knowledge of Caterpillar's interests to start to make new connections for them into our other areas of activity.  I also remembered how much I liked factories!


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:26

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