Kingston Aviation
Michael Frain
Transcript: 2
A new approach to facilities managament

Michael here describes how, as Works Engineer, he restructured the seven departments that worked to him in order to service core activities, set factory procedures and bring in a proper programme of planned maintenance. At this time in the mid 1970s when the Harrier and the Hawk were in production, this modernization met resistance from both management and the trade unions.

Later, because of the situation, I had to develop a new approach – a new way of thinking. Focusing people’s attention – my own people particularly. But it did help other departments realise just what each team was about.

I had to analyse what it was they were doing. Some were maintaining machine tools, some were maintaining buildings – boilers, road transport items, and a whole range of others from the plumbing, the heating and so on. But they would move across, they didn’t have the necessary focus so that you could develop their skills to the item.

So in fact – say air conditioning or MC machines, the computerised machines that we had in those days. So identified the core activities that we would require, both for Dunsfold Aerodrome as well as the factory at Kingston. The Kingston factory was challenging because there was much more widespread activity there.

Having identified the cores it was then to restructure my departments. I had seven departments. I had to restructure them so that they could target those particular areas and then we could arrange the training. We arranged a selection of the most suitable people to the department and then train them. And having trained them we had to set procedures in place and inform our customers – that was anyone on both sites- who to go to for the type of service they required. And then in time budgets were attributed to it.

One of the problems I faced – it was the understanding of a lot of the management and some of them were customers. They were, they viewed maintenance as just the oily rag and the spanner and the screwdriver and in reality it was far more than that. And especially with the new Health and Safety ‘etcetera’ Work Act and the technology that was rapidly changing in the 70’s-80’s. So it was to try and convince the management that change was necessary for the future.

The difficulty I faced, with one or two of my colleagues, was changing the attitude particularly of the unions – and the unions were well respected by the management. And the management – I would meet my own shop stewards and so on and sometimes the Works Convener – but often it would be the General Manager or the Production Director would meet the Unions.  I would not be involved in those meetings and sometimes it laid a precedent and it was difficult because it didn’t always fit in with what I was trying to do with the change. And certainly it didn’t help with the education of the unions, trying to get them to see that there are different ways and the reasons.

One classic example, having been a Company Planned Maintenance Engineer responsible for the maintenance – the company planned maintenance programme – in five Unilever factories, was to try to introduce planned maintenance on certain of the plant machines within the factory. Not everything deserves a planned maintenance programme.

Now that was fine, to a point, but the problem I found was that the men, led by the union, were not prepared to put pencil to paper to record any reading necessary. Now if you record you want to know the pressure or the wear on a bearing so that you might not want to necessarily replace it then, say it’s good for another six months, but you do need to know when to schedule. Sadly that was the sort of attitude.  “That’s not down to us you employ clerks and run around.”  Privately, having a drink with the men in the Hawker Centre, they would agree with you, but no, it wasn’t for them. More people had to be employed – so it was a difficult issue.

You’re providing a support service but nevertheless it is absolutely fundamental to the factory and to the industry and this is the, we are talking about the  70’s here, where they would be, well they were building Harriers, they would be developing …

And the Hawk.

And they would be developing the Hawk in 1974, that’s right. We are actually a long way now from the age of the Hurricane or even the Hawker Hunter in the 1950’s. It seems quite extraordinary there is this, there is this reluctance to take modern industrial practices onboard.

I can only go back to the background of the people. They were very nice people, and dedicated in their own way, and they had knowledge and skills about aircraft, and that shouldn’t be forgotten about. But what they were not aware of  – the changing world of the business and of engineering. Most of them had not been outside and whilst there were people that came in from outside, they were probably not in positions to influence the thinking of the senior management in their approach.