How virtual innovation kept Millbrook running throughout the Covid-19 outbreak

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To the outside world, it may have looked as though the global automotive industry entirely ground to a halt this March, with the global outbreak of Covid-19. However, if you are reading this, you are probably all too aware that this is not the case. Public policy deadlines are still in place, product lifecycles remain the same, and development schedules for new solutions and technologies continue to run.

When the global situation started to worsen earlier this year, we knew that shutting Millbrook’s doors would not only be detrimental to our business, it would severely affect our customers and the industry. So instead, we put our existing business continuity plans into practice and started to make changes to our working practices to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus at our sites.

Alongside our robust approach to remaining ‘Covid-secure’, remote witnessing has allowed us to keep operating throughout the global pandemic. We use real-time remote technology to allow type approval-witnessing engineers and customers to observe tests without having to physically attend them.

Originally implemented for engine strip and rate programs long before the pandemic – to enable customers to see high-definition close-up footage of their components and speak to test engineers at the same time – remote witnessing was quickly deployed across our facilities, in many cases within days of lockdown announcements. We contacted our customers with our plans to reassure them we could still continue to meet their requirements and hone the changes we were putting in place to meet their specific needs. This enabled type approval and development programs to continue across the vast majority of our core capabilities. We have been able to continue to run relatively short tests, including tire, noise and crash type approvals, as well as more complex programs such as emissions certifications for hybrid vehicle technology.

Each of these applications presents its own unique set of challenges, but our teams have worked tirelessly to ensure that remote witnessing offers an experience that is similar, if not better, than attending the test in person. It is important that customers and approvals agencies are able to see exactly what they need to at any given time, so we are able to switch between live feeds from multiple static and mobile cameras, accommodating new angles wherever possible. We can stream vehicle data, GPS and video in real time while driving around the test track. And we have developed new operating protocols to ensure confidentiality is assured at all times.

While this innovative approach to conducting tests has been largely brought about by necessity, more pronounced benefits are now starting to become apparent. Within our safety department, for example, we have completed more than 20 type approval authority-witnessed full-scale crash tests in the last month. With our customers being based all over the world, remote witnessing has made the process more efficient and cost effective. Before remote witnessing, customers will have booked at least a day away from the office and paid for travel and accommodation to witness the test in person. Now, our customers and authority engineers can watch a test remotely, make the necessary checks, and then get on with the rest of their day. The reduction in travel requirements also reduces the CO2   footprint of the development program. This may only be small, but the improvements all add up.

As well as remote witnessing, we are running some of our facilities, such as the Battery Test Facility, remotely and processing test track permit applications and tuition virtually. Our simulator team is remotely carrying on with driver training and test track familiarization programs.

When asked, I often tell people that the reason that Millbrook is such a fascinating place to work is the outstanding flexibility of our engineers and our capacity to innovate to solve a problem. In the face of one of the largest challenges known by this generation, Millbrook has once again shown a great deal of resilience and, when all of this is over, will be left with even better, more efficient ways of working.

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