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Concept to production- The challenges of project management in the RNLI

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Martin Gosden, the Branch Chairman, conducted a brisk AGM, introduced the committee, got agreement of the 2012 AGM minutes, reviewed the past year and looked forward to the next. Peter Wakeling, the Treasurer, discussed the financial statement. Following election of the committee, the Chairman introduced our speakers for tonight from the RNLI, Steve Austen, Head of Engineering Support and Angus Watson, Head of Construction and Refit.

Steve opened the event explaining a bit more about the RNLI, which relies on voluntary contributions for 92% of annual income, is mainly staffed by volunteers who raise funds and operate the life boats, with only a small paid staff.

The RNLI needs several classes of lifeboats, to cover the operating requirement, from the surf zone, right out to 100 nautical miles. There are 237 lifeboat stations, 6 Flood Rescue Teams and RNLI lifeguards on over 200 beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. They work closely with HM Coastguard and the Irish Coast Guard, who co-ordinate rescues and lifeboats aim to reach 90% of casualties out to 10 nautical miles, within 30 mins.
To meet the requirement, the fleet includes five classes of all-weather lifeboat, three of which can be slip way launched, two classes of in-shore lifeboat, hovercraft and the high speed E class inshore lifeboat which is used on the River Thames.

The key challenge is the environment, where the requirement is to be able to operate at a minimum of 17 Kts in a Force 7 gale and 16m waves. The hulls, engines, seating, ergonomics, built-in damage tolerance and self-righting, are all unique to RNLI. There are no off the shelf boats available and so all lifeboats are specially designed. Our inshore lifeboats are currently built at the RNLI’s Inshore Lifeboat Centre in Cowes, and we are currently developing an All-weather Lifeboat Centre at the RNLI’s headquarters in Poole, where all-weather lifeboats will eventually be produced and maintained in-house.

Steve outlined the strategic drivers for change in the RNLI, resulting from the long-term economic outlook and increasing competition within the charity sector and the subsequent need to do more with less. This led to a fundamental review of how the RNLI delivers its services, which identified a number of areas to be addressed. These included the need for greater efficiency and effectiveness in all aspects of operations, a better balance between new equipment and in-service kit, a joined up approach for engineering and the adoption throughout the RNLI of the principles of continuous improvement.

Traditionally the planning cycle for new lifeboats, was boom and bust, based on a 25 year boat life. This is inefficient, and so demand needed to be smoothed. A stable operational requirement, advanced composite materials, a better understanding of reliability, design for maintenance, active obsolescence strategy and better through life maintenance has enabled a 50 year service life to be realistically specified for new boats. Condition based maintenance has been used to help extend the life of in-service boats to 50 years, reduce the size (and therefore cost) of a relief fleet, reduce stock holdings, and reduce volunteer maintenance effort, and frequency and extent of refit.

The new Shannon class all-weather lifeboat has been designed with an inherent 50 year lifespan, and after an initial build programme of six per year for approx. eight years, will alter to a steady state of three new and three upgrades per year, which, with refit work will allow a steady state work  hour demand and the ability to maintain a critical mass of essential skills. The adoption of lean techniques, or continuous improvement as it is known, has streamlined both new build and refit work, considerably reducing the hours needed.

For the Shannon class, Lean has been adopted for the design process, reducing the administration overhead, using techniques such as structured problem solving (based on a methodology developed by Toyota), where the problem is fully understood before trying to solve it, and lessons are captured for reuse. Multi-disciplinary teams and value engineering have been used to focus on reducing whole life costs during design. The boats are now designed to be built using jigs rather than craft based production. Together these initiatives have realised £300K of savings per boat.
Life extension studies are looking at options for the in-service boats, including packages of upgrades and condition based maintenance to extend the life of boats to 50 years. This will reduce the need and cost of a relief fleet, reduce stock holdings, reduce volunteer maintenance effort, and the frequency and extent of refits.

Angus described the challenges from the changes to construction and refit and how value stream thinking, condition based maintenance and Lean had realised some £7M in savings since 2009, which was £2M above target.  Much experience and confidence had been gained from the RNLI’s Inshore Lifeboat Centre, where lean had reduced turn round times by up to 80% and reduced the inshore relief fleet by approx. 50%.

The all-weather composite hulls had until 2009 been built by a single boat builder in the UK, but the need to reduce time and costs meant that the RNLI needed to reconsider this process.  After buying SAR Composites, to produce hulls in-house, and following a feasibility study, it was decided to take the whole of all-weather lifeboat production in-house and project Coventina was authorised to double in-house production capability with a new facility in Poole.  The main benefit will be that RNLI owns the order book and will save some £29M over 17 years and in excess of £3M savings per year once up and running.

The project risks are recognised and project workstreams focus on these risks, with five full time project staff as well as other co-opted staff.  The project team uses lean tools, including vertical value steam mapping, MS Project, Sharepoint and SAP. A highly disciplined risk management process is used to manage and escalate risks.

Angus outlined the new facilities to be built on land already owned by the RNLI in Poole Harbour. The structure will be built on some 2000 piles. It is versatile, flexible, and has mezzanine floors so that work can be carried out adjacent to the boats, which is much more efficient. It is designed to be future proof.

This massive change programme across RNLI of strategic planning and performance management will enable RNLI to absorb inflation costs and flat-line operation costs into the future. Running costs for 2009 were £148M, as a result of the change programme, for 2012, they are £140M, and will continue to remain at this level into the future. Without the change programme, operating costs would have continued to rise year on year, which would be unsustainable.

By taking a rigorous approach to programme and project management, introducing lean and bringing construction and refit in-house, the RNLI has secured a financial position and will be able to deliver the vital 4th emergency service well into the future.

Martin Gosden
Branch Chairman


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