Proud to be proactive

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The double-deck fleet is now entirely based on variants of the Enviro400. ANDY IZATT

Stagecoach Manchester Engineering Director Peter Sumner has worked in the industry for almost half a century. As he explained to Andy Izatt, experience has taught him that detailed analysis of every aspect of his operation brings the insight he and his staff need to deliver a value for money engineering function

Stagecoach Manchester Engineering Director Peter Sumner has been appointed Operations Engineer for Stagecoach Group from 1 August.

“My new job will be to provide support for the Engineering Directors,” explained Peter. “Since becoming Engineering Director at Stagecoach East Midlands in 1993, I have been heavily involved in the restructure and modernisation of the engineering functions of the companies I have worked for in order to meet the challenges of a deregulated market.

“Since 2011 I have been instrumental in implementing the Stagecoach preventative maintenance programme (Proactive Maintenance) to meet the ever-changing complexities of the fleet. At Stagecoach Manchester I’ve set up audit and KPI monitoring systems to be able to quickly identify areas that are not performing as they should and some of those systems and procedures are now used throughout the Group.

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“There will be a new computerised engineering maintenance system that’s likely to be launched in 12 months so we need to make sure all the operating companies’ systems, policies and procedures are functioning as they should. I will be putting particular emphasis on data analysis and the importance of good communications, focusing staff on areas of concern.”

Long career
“I’ve been in this industry 49 years,” said Peter. “Initially I wanted to be a joiner, but my father said there was no future in wood. It was when uPVC was becoming popular. My parents were keen for me to secure an apprenticeship so I applied to Vauxhall Motors in Liverpool and Ribble Motor Services. Ribble was the more prestigious employer and it provided me with well-structured and professional training that gave me a good grounding.

“At Ribble, I worked my way up to become Depot Engineer at Bootle, then Area Engineer for Manchester. As part of the privatisation of the National Bus Company of which Ribble was a subsidiary, its Merseyside, Skelmersdale and Wigan depots were split away to form North Western Road Car in 1986 and I became the new company’s Assistant Fleet Engineer. Not having access to Ribble’s central works in Preston anymore meant we set up our own small workshop, paint shop and stores at Aintree. It was like working for a small private company and we had to deliver value for money, a central theme of my career ever since. That doesn’t mean undertaking maintenance as cheaply as possible. It means setting out specifications and putting in systems and procedures to deliver them.

“Geoff Corsa was Engineering Director and part of the management team that tried to buy North Western. When it was sold to British Bus, he moved to East Midland Motor Services at Chesterfield as Engineering Director and I joined him as Assistant Chief Engineer.

“Privatised in a management buyout, East Midlands’ strategy was to grow the business through new Frontrunner operations established at Tintwhistle near Manchester and in Rainham, east London. I spent a lot of time setting up the London operation, which was good experience because of the difficulties of finding staff and maintaining vehicles. The buses would go back to Mansfield to be MOT’d.

“Stagecoach bought East Midlands and Ribble from their respective management teams at around the same time in 1989 and Geoff moved to Ribble as Engineering Director. I became Chief Engineer at East Midlands, then Engineering Director in 1993. The business grew with the takeover of Chesterfield Transport, but East Midlands’ central works was closed, being replaced with a commercial workshop run by a guy called John Mark.

“Barry Hinkley was Stagecoach Engineering Director at the time and he had a very clear strategy to implement the Group’s systems and procedures. I thought it was a very good approach because it restructured and modernised the engineering functions. Barry gave us the equipment we needed as well as the systems to do the job, but woe betide us if we didn’t deliver. I didn’t see anything wrong with that.

“In 1997 I was appointed Engineering Director of Stagecoach Manchester, part of a team that included Managing Director Les Warneford and Operations Director Mark Threapleton tasked with restructuring a business that had been called to a Public Inquiry just before I joined.

“I was faced with an old fleet and deeply entrenched working practices. The day I arrived 52 PG9s landed on my desk. I’d rarely seen a PG9 before and they’d all been issued on one day. I thought I must talk to the senior DVSA vehicle examiner and find out what was going on. It turned out it was David Lees who had been my vehicle examiner at Bootle. I knew him very well; we had a frank discussion and he gave me some pointers on where he thought some of the problems lay.

“Throughout my career, I’ve never been at loggerheads with the DVSA. We both want to improve public safety and make sure vehicles are safe. There were a lot of outdated and restrictive practices, inefficient shift patterns and disengaged staff at Stagecoach Manchester. It seemed everyone wanted to work down a level. Foremen didn’t really want to be foremen. They wanted the pay, but wanted to be fitters.

“I found supervisors all congregated in one office, which struck me straight away as a problem. We fix buses so they needed to be out there talking and motivating staff. A lot of what was required was reengaging with staff on what was right and wrong. Nobody other than depot and fleet engineers have offices now. What we have in the workshop is strategically placed podiums where foremen work.

“A new preventative maintenance system was introduced and staff levels and shift patterns were agreed with trade union representatives to achieve the maximum benefits. Managers were retrained and had to take the transport manager’s Certificate of Professional Competence to ensure they understood the responsibilities of running large bus garages. Dedicated vehicle inspectors were identified and trained by VOSA, refresher training being provided every three years.

“A significant investment programme saw workshop facilities improved including new inspection pits, new and redesigned stores, bus washes and cleaning equipment. A start was also made on renewing the whole fleet over three years and all of that made a big impact on improving quality and performance.

“Our maintenance strategy was outlined to the traffic commissioner at the Public Inquiry and the company was given nine months to show there had been a substantial improvement. There was, and we started to be recognised as one of the best-performing companies within Stagecoach.

“In 1998 I led a small team evaluating, modifying and introducing a fleet maintenance and stock control software system called FACT. It enabled us to monitor the costs and effectiveness of the preventative maintenance system, while using some of the data to assist in new vehicle procurement. FACT is still used across Stagecoach Group although it’s about to be replaced by the new computerised engineering maintenance system.”

Working in London
“Stagecoach London had continued to underperform and I was asked to go there as Engineering Director in 2001. It seemed like the engineering team had declared UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence). We’re London and we’re different was the attitude.

“There are differences, but maintaining buses is fundamentally the same wherever you are. I told the managers that we would be open, honest and transparent. We would identify the issues and there may be different solutions, but we would do it the Stagecoach way.

“One challenge was the skill level of the workforce. London was predominantly 80% semiskilled. That was ok under a franchise regime where buses were renewed every five years. The problems started to arise when that was extended by two years and then by up to another five. Then there was a requirement for more highly skilled people.

“Some of the boroughs in London are the most socially deprived in the country and that’s where we were recruiting staff. People were often not the best educated and standards were generally poor. Also there was not necessarily the self-motivation so, despite having good systems and procedures in place, more constant supervision was required. Nevertheless we persevered and started to consistently come top of the London FTA (Freight Transport Association) audit league.

“After five years Stagecoach sold its London business to Macquarie Bank and I remained along with the other directors as part of the deal. I was still there when the business was bought back in 2010. However, it wasn’t long before the opportunity came up to come back to Manchester as Engineering Director and I returned in 2011.”

Power to communicate
“The Manchester business was in good shape,” said Peter. “Darren Roe, who was my assistant when I left, had been Engineering Director. The systems and procedures continued to be very good, but what he excelled at was motivating people.

“Throughout my career I have encouraged engineers who have worked with me to develop their skills and knowledge to the maximum, leading to three of them becoming Engineering Directors within Stagecoach and Darren was one of them.

“One of my biggest challenges when I came back was the age profile of my managers. A lot were people I’d worked with when I left, but Stagecoach has an excellent apprenticeship scheme and there were some very good apprentices coming through. I have increased the number we employ over the past five years so that it’s never fewer than 20 at a time. Rather than wait for people to retire and start looking for replacements, we did career progression profiles with some of them and sent them off on training courses to prepare them for taking on management roles.

“I employ more than 300 staff. That’s 135 skilled engineers, 135 unskilled and about 35 management grades including store keepers. There are around 80 based at Hyde Road depot, where our head office is. It’s the biggest depot within Stagecoach with 204 buses and nine training vehicles – that’s within a fleet of 750. There’s a fitter for every 10 buses, one bodybuilder for 34 and one electrician for 80. Engineering is a seven day a week operation. The only day we have off is Christmas Day.

“At each of our three biggest depots – Hyde Road, Sharston and Stockport – there are Fleet Engineers who report to me. Reporting to them is a Workshop Manager and then Foremen. The three smaller depots at Ashton, Middleton and Wigan are run by Depot Engineers who are the equivalent of a Workshop Manager.

“Poor standards are often the result of a lack of communication. If I challenge somebody because I’ve found something is wrong, I tend to get three stock answers. It’s either I didn’t know what was required, I haven’t got the tools to do the job or I haven’t got the time to do it. Standards suffer because of poor supervision, lack of interaction and motivation, and lack of quality control processes.

“The success of this business depends on effective communication – disseminating information to those that need to know and constantly checking that standards are understood, implemented and maintained.

“I meet with my six fleet and depot engineers about once a week. All the information that comes to me, I disseminate to them. That’s passed on to their foremen on a daily basis through depot management meetings which will review what happened in the workshop the previous evening, breakdowns and vehicles off the road (VORs). The foremen will then have briefings with engineers held in breakout areas in the workshops. There are agendas to work through and the objective is to ensure all know their responsibilities and what needs to be done. It’s about ensuring information is passed on to someone who can do something about it – keeping everyone motivated and communicating.

“Workshop PCs have been installed at all our depots, connected through a local intranet to enable staff to have access to the latest technical guidance and workshop manuals. It means managers and supervisors are no longer the only source of information and it has resulted in improved fault diagnosis and better compliance with the company’s preventative maintenance tasks. Staff competency has improved.”

Effective engineering
Said Peter: “In my quest to evaluate the effectiveness of the engineering function, I have designed a number of systems and procedures that aren’t just used by us in Manchester. They have been adopted by Group to enhance its maintenance policies.

“I’ve had software developed that monitors vehicle spend on a daily basis against a pre-set budget, analysing movements year-on-year. Detailed systems have been introduced to monitor interior and exterior vehicle presentation and in-service cleaning has also been introduced to enhance the passenger experience.

“All reporting has been standardised against revised KPIs to produce league tables and benchmarking that promotes improved overall performance – a better MOT first time pass rate, for example (it’s 99.2% and was 99.4% at the end of last year), fewer PG9s and lost mileage due to breakdowns.

“I have set up a filing system on the intranet that covers administration, auditing, buildings, environmental, fuel, fleet, health and safety, accounts, stores, technical and reports. Many have live reporting such as vehicles off the road each day, breakdowns, interior cleans completed that day and daily spend against budget. That enables me to monitor depot performance in real-time and has helped improve the department’s efficiency and quality. It is a very detailed filing system that includes standard forms and procedures for the majority of tasks and is also used in the training of managers.

“All of that means that when a vehicle is due for its 28-day inspection, we treat it like going to the doctor. We have clerks who go through the history of the bus and pull out all the relevant documentation to go into a Service Pack along with the inspection sheet. That’s all passed to the foreman to allocate to a vehicle inspector. The foreman must do a quality audit himself by carrying out 10% of the inspections. We audit everything. If the foreman sees there’s a driver related defect when he collects the pack after the inspection, we’ll audit first use inspection as well. Once the clerks have all the documentation back, the data is updated on our system.

“Because we have systems that log all driver defects on a daily basis, my engineers can carry out root cause analysis that helps to improve our preventative maintenance, parts specifications and quality of repairs. I see driver defect reporting as a free customer survey every day and I believe carrying out this level of analysis on what we’re told has assisted us in our continual improvement strategy.

“I have always promoted the use of on-board vehicle telematics because they help us predict component failures before they lead to an on road incident. I can monitor systems such as engine temperature which may indicate an issue building with the cooling pack or drop in oil pressure before it leads to a breakdown.

“We are very good at analytics now. Lost mileage as a result of engineering in 2015 was 25,000 miles. It was down to 10,000 miles last year and that’s through embracing a proactive maintenance system, analysing monthly analytics reports, targeting and improving.

“Break down accountability into bite sized chunks and make people responsible for zones, particular tasks and ensuring standards are met. If there are failings, we can identify them and tell if staff are not monitoring what they should be monitoring.

“Take an engine failure. We don’t do a great deal of mileage. It’s on average around 35,000 a year. Realistically we should be able to run a vehicle for its full life without changing an engine. If there’s a failure, something has gone wrong and we need to find out what’s happened. We’ve spent money on a new engine that we’ve not budgeted for, so we’re looking for the causes of that and there are many areas where we can look.

“I want my engineering managers to be constantly analysing to ensure the department is performing as it should. If it isn’t, we need to take action because it means we’re not delivering value for money.”

Broader picture

There’s a trim shop at Hyde Road depot. So it matches, the whole of a bottom deck will be re-trimmed with any good faded trim saved so it can be used on another vehicle that doesn’t yet need re-trimming. ANDY IZATT

“Health and safety has come more to the fore,” Peter continued. “There’s a genuine requirement to ensure people can come to work safely and go home without injury, but it’s also about the broader wellbeing of staff – trying to make them feel more included at a time when good labour is an ever diminishing resource. It’s important to make workshops attractive places to work. That means giving people an environment where they can enjoy what they do and where they feel part of the company.

“An engineering bonus system was introduced at Stagecoach Manchester last year that monitors aspects such as lost miles, breakdowns, MOT pass rates, total budget spend, attendance, health and safety auditing and maintenance auditing. Every member of the team is paid the bonus if targets are met and it’s the same regardless of grade.

“As I keep saying, it’s about how we deliver value for money. Build up the equipment, give people adequate time to do the task, document the policies and procedures, train staff and introduce a quality audit programme and that’s when we start to see improvements. Then set up KPIs, but remember how important good communication is to inclusion and motivation.

“In my new role I will be saying to Engineering Directors they need to be meeting their fleet and depot engineers at least every two weeks to discuss performance. They in turn should be setting the agenda and meeting their foremen, clerks and storekeepers daily.

“Set out breakout areas like we’ve done at Manchester where managers can share information with staff. Give them access to PCs so they can access important data and have two-way radios so they can communicate with ‘Operations.’ Put all of that in place, constantly feed and monitor it and staff will feel more involved and valued. Improvements will follow.

“What I want is openness. If something is wrong and we get it out in the open we can put it right. Sam Greer (Stagecoach UK Bus Engineering Director) always requires to know the reasons if expenditure rises unexpectedly and expects his Engineering Directors to be able to explain the reasons.

“Because we’ve got the data, we should be able to put it in a format that enables us to articulate it and forecast what is going to happen going forward. Developments we’re expecting, whether it’s how the fleet is aging, how mileage is changing or how vehicles are becoming more complex – we have to understand all of that. It means we can forecast and tell the accountants as well as exploring ways of doing what we do differently, whether it’s purchasing smarter or developing alternative preventative maintenance procedures.

“Many of the spreadsheets and reports we use at Stagecoach Manchester have been designed especially for me, but the new computerised engineering maintenance system should incorporate all of that. It will take a long time to roll out and there will be a lot of training to bring people’s IT skills up to a certain level. We don’t want people to be frightened by that. Rather, we want them to embrace the new technology. That’s the challenge as I see it going forward.

“As a Group we’ve just applied for Earned Recognition. Stagecoach Manchester was the lead company and 14 of the 19 operating companies have been accepted. We’ve made a second round of applications for the remainder.

“Part of having that recognition is using a digitised, computerised system that can report to the DVSA automatically. We haven’t got that at the moment so we’re having to report manually and are subject to annual audits, but that will change with the new system.

“I’ve been doing this job a long time and I’ve always collected systems, procedures and policies wherever I’ve found them, tailoring them to suit what I need. Once they’re in place and standards are met it’s essential to constantly monitor, tweak and improve them. Over time I’ve enhanced all our workshop systems and streamlined the audit procedures to deliver the efficiency we want.

“I’ve made it my business in the last few years to pass as much as I can to the younger guys and some of the longer established engineers to try and make their jobs easier and achieve the high levels of performance that we’re looking for. It means when we meet the trade union now, we’re discussing performance issues rather than whether their overalls fit. Everyone relishes that and benefits.

“Over many years I have studied and learnt what I think are the most effective ways to ensure we run a safe, clean and reliable fleet, but it has always been with one eye on delivering value for money.”