A drive for independence

Four of Cosworth’s top engineers have broken away to form their own company, believing there is room in the market for another, truly independent, automotive consultant. As David Fowler discovers, managing and integrating complex automotive projects will

When Vickers sold automotive consultant Cosworth to VW subsidiary Audi last year, the new owner reassured clients it would remain independent, and Audi projects would be kept separate from work for other clients.

Earlier this year, a recruitment drive to double Cosworth’s size was announced, to a large extent to deal with new business from Audi.

But the aim of continuing outside work has surely been dealt a blow with last month’s announcement that four senior engineers – including Roger Duckworth, son of Cosworth co-founder Keith Duckworth – are leaving to set up independent consultancy, Integral Powertrain.

Duckworth, previously Cosworth’s chief engineer for powertrain development and Luke Barker, formerly chief engineer for projects, will be joined in July by computer-aided engineering systems manager Darren Cairns, and John McLean, senior engineering manager responsible for all design development and test activities.

The four stress they left Cosworth on amicable terms. Barker and Duckworth say they have identified a market niche. But clearly, they aim to develop Integral Powertrain in the image of Cosworth as it was.

`On occasions we have not been able to take the company where we wanted to go,’ says Barker. `Vickers was like an honourable merchant bank. They didn’t interfere greatly. They were demanding but fair. If they invested, they looked for a return. Working for an automotive manufacturer we felt we wouldn’t have the same freedom.’

`Inevitably, there were changes,’ says Duckworth. `Audi obviously had work which Cosworth had to make room for. That was the first challenge.’

`There was some good work there,’ says Barker. `But there was definitely going to be a change of identity with the loss of some autonomy.’

Setting up a new firm is a bold move. The UK is renowned for automotive consultants, such as Ricardo, Cosworth and Lotus Engineering, but it is a crowded, competitive market.

But Barker says: `There is definitely a gap for another major player. Each consultancy has some areas where they are better, and are able to drive the overall standard to a higher level.’ He expects Integral Powertrain’s area of strength to be the ability to integrate the latest technology, with `proper simultaneous engineering’, on large projects. Many car makers have not achieved this, he says.

At Cosworth, he says: `We made sure our engineers considered manufacturing implications at an early stage of design. That led beyond simultaneous engineering, which in many cases has been more lip service than reality. We want to move that whole concept a stage further on.’

The tool to do this is a single master CAD model of the entire product specification. It has only recently become practical, says Barker, to define every attribute of a complex component, such as a cylinder head, and its tooling, in a single model.

`It enables you to really interface with other parts of the project: manufacturing, styling, purchasing and cost estimating,’ says Barker. `It’s co-ordinated through the designer, who is in control of the specification. But making it happen requires a lot of skill.’

Integral Powertrain believes its skill will be a flexible approach to managing projects, working with the automotive manufacturers and suppliers. `In many cases key suppliers will be involved, or the customer may provide one of these functional areas,’ Barker explains. `The key is deploying skills towards the specific objectives of the project.’

Improving communications and managing this process effectively is the key to the `beyond simultaneous engineering’ approach.

Target customers are automotive manufacturers and tier-one and two suppliers. Tier-one suppliers are seen as an especially fertile area, as car manufacturers are keen to pass responsibility for system design on to them.

In the long term, Barker and Duckworth envisage the company taking on large projects, but initially, the founders will work as consultants, and will offer expertise in computer-aided engineering systems, to justify their purchase of a state-of-the-art CAE system.

The company is close to reaching a `teaming agreement’ with a test facility, to avoid the expensive of having its own facilities.

Staff will be taken on as projects materialise. As a relatively small company where individuals can see the results of their efforts, Integral Powertrain believes it will be able to recreate the level of staff dedication which existed at Cosworth. Duckworth says: `At Cosworth, we employed youngish people and developed them as “Cosworth engineers”. It’s important to create a working environment conducive to hard work and making people think for themselves.’

At a glance:

Luke Barker

Age: 35

Education: BTech (Hons) in automotive engineering and design, Loughborough University

First job: Development engineer, Jaguar; joined Cosworth after two years

Roger Duckworth

Age: 33

Education: BEng (Hons) in mechanical engineering, Brunel University

First job: Development engineer, road engines, Cosworth. Worked on Ford Sierra Cosworth and Escort Cosworth engines