Driving partners

Developing an audio system for a concept car helped Bowers & Wilkins and Jaguar explore new levels of collaboration, says Martin Lindsay.

At its most basic, collaboration is no more than dividing a task into sections that different parties with different skills can complete. At this level, it promotes efficiency, but it adds very little value.

Look in more detail at collaboration, however, and it becomes clear that there are opportunities not just to produce results that can’t be accomplished in any other way but to bring them to market with a combined expertise that will deliver a vastly better outcome.

It is this approach that Jaguar Advanced Design and Bowers & Wilkins used when developing an audio system for the Jaguar C-XF concept car, recently shown at the North American Auto Show in Detroit.

Although a relative newcomer to the automotive audio field, Bowers & Wilkins is one of the most respected names in audio. Many of the technologies coming out of its Steyning research facility turn out to be well-suited to applications for sound in the car. The challenge in the Jaguar C-XF project was to come up with a concept audio system that would not only support proper sound design but match the calibre of Jaguar’s interior design.

The first stage began with a brainstorming session exploring a variety of concepts, materials and sketches to see how these might work with the design objectives. In the talks with Jaguar Advanced Design, it was important for Bowers & Wilkins to ensure Jaguar was comfortable with the collaboration. Jaguar had an interior design and certain design elements in mind for the car, and Bowers & Wilkins’ role was to develop an audio system that complemented this.

This is a continual challenge in implementing audio systems in a vehicle, as any automotive engineer can tell you. Heading Bowers & Wilkins’ collaborative effort was Stuart Nevill, the company’s leading applied research engineer. He designed and crafted many of the elements in the vehicle, including the micro-mesh speaker panels embedded in the dashboard and rear deck.

As the companies exchanged ideas, Jaguar and Bowers & Wilkins began to realise the possible benefits of deeper collaboration. Armed with prototype products, a box of speaker components, various materials and prototypes, the Bowers & Wilkins team visited Jaguar’s offices to collaborate further. Using a clay model, the teams were able to see how and where they might be able to integrate elements.

Next came the setting of a framework and procedures for the collaboration itself — who would be responsible for what by when?

Any company embarking on a collaboration needs to consider various factors. First, it’s important to be open-minded. In a proper collaboration, companies learn from each other and discover how each other’s strengths can help deliver an impressive result. This will give the collaboration real vitality, generate a common vision, identify roadblocks and keep the team close and engaged.

Second, the collaborators should look for new ways of innovating together. A successful collaboration should amount to more than the sum of its parts.

Finally, regular, effective and wide-ranging communication at all levels is essential.

Collaboration needs processes that will allow the partners to work smoothly together. There must be the right mix of people, appropriate project management (keeping track of timelines and the components list), and a shared understanding of the goals and of what it will take to make the collaboration successful. Too often, collaborations fail because partners work in isolation, only talking to each other about specialist areas of expertise instead of sharing the wider project issues.

Partners should also have shared aims. For Jaguar and Bowers & Wilkins, it’s achieving a consistent, unrivalled audio experience in the car. In good collaborations like these, benefits flow between partners in both directions and cover a wide range of areas from technology and engineering through to brand and marketing.

A good collaboration should also be a long-term investment. You should define aims in terms of shared goals for the overall business plans, rather than just the objectives for a particular project at hand.

Finally — and this is difficult for many engineering companies — look beyond the technology and brands to the companies and the expertise behind it. The strength of Bowers & Wilkins’ partnership with Jaguar is not just that its technology allows a step up in sound quality, but because the expertise behind it promises to yield new technologies and know-how. A successful collaboration provides new skills and resources that considerably increase the opportunities for innovation.

Successful collaborations don’t end when the first project is over. We look forward to accomplishing more great results with Jaguar.

Martin Lindsay is senior automotive business development manager with Bowers & Wilkins