Insights into Excellence: BAE Systems – Electronics

  • Design for Manufacture (DFM) or Design for Everything (DFx)
  • Enterprise Alignment
  • Cultural Transformation

The BAE Systems site at Rochester is part of the Electronic Syst


ems division, which employs over 11,000 people over 23 sites worldwide. It has been at the heart of electronics manufacturing for the Defence and Civil Aviation industries for over 60 years. On the site there are over 1200 employees of which half are systems, software, electronic hardware designers, and mechanical engineers. The site is a center of excellence for a wide range of manufacturing processes – including PCB design and manufacture, optics, mechanics, assembly, and test equipment. One of the primary reasons the site is continuing to expand is due to the growth in products for the civil aviation and transport markets. It’s latest success has been the HybriDrive Solution for electric buses.

BAE Systems have been a host on the Onsite Insights programme for over 10 years and their willingness to share their journey with other companies interested in best practice has helped numerous organisations improve. On this visit BAE shared their focus on Design for Manufacture, their Continuous Improvement journey and the steps they have taken to transform their Culture.

Design for Everything (‘DFx’)

BAE’s primary objective for introducing DFx into their manufacturing process was, quite simply, to ensure products were designed in such a way that makes them easier to manufacture.

This means:

  • Reduced component (material) complexity and cost
  • Reduced assembly (labour) time
  • Reduced test time and opitimised the test procedures
  • Improved serviceability throughout the life of the product
  • Prevent problems and improved quality
  • Ensured design meets the project cost targets.

When launching this initiative they were faced with common challenges ‘there’s not enough time’, ‘we only manufacture in low volumes, assembly is only a small fraction of the total costs’, ‘We’ve been doing it for years’. BAE acknowledged these, but truly believed that by systematically introducing DFx early in the design phase they would be able to bring products to market faster and at a better quality.

So in practice, what did this mean? Their initial focus was to create a supportive DFx culture by co-locating the design team within Manufacturing, this immediately broke down barriers and opened up communication. This allowed them to address what came to be known as ‘The Ugly Baby Syndrome’ where design engineers and product managers refused any critique of their pride and joy!

BAE had some excellent advice – Every company needs to first establish what their focus for DFx needs to be. For BAE this was to provide a strong focus on Design for Test as well as Design for Manufacture (hence the use of DFx not DFM). The rationale being that when they make it easier to test and easier to support – they make the right decisions in manufacturing.

BAE introduced a balanced scorecard to determine the most cost effective and manufacturable concept. Importantly the balanced scorecard allowed them to open up engagement across the business. This scoring system allowed BAE to have better visibility of design priorities and allowed for input from different departments. The example they used to explain this was the redesign of a Chassis Assembly – by using the scorecard they gained the view point of the supply chain, engineers and design team to review and score different manufacturing approaches from machined casting to assembled extrusion. The outcome was to develop a new process which drove £200k annual savings.

Starting with the best possible design is always better than improving a weak one.

They also recommend using the Boothroyd Dewhurst Principle for parts analysis:

  • Essential – does the part need to be a different material? Does the part need to move in relation to the other parts? Does the part need to be removable for maintenance?
  • Wrong Part Right – Are there two or more parts in the BOM that are so similar that they could be confused and the wrong part fitted?
  • Right Part Wrong – Is the way each part is fitted error proof?

If this is considered at the design stage it is easier to rule out potential assembly errors and mistake proof processes. Creating the best possible manufacturing environment.

Design trade-offs are often presented as black and white – for example reducing complexity can increase the overall cost to produce. However, it is always necessary to look at the end-to-end manufacturing process including aspects like piece part storage, BOMs, configuration impacts. One of the lessons BAE learned during this process was the trade-off may be more complex than the data available. i.e. defect rates, full lifecycle & impact to support.

DFx is now a natural part of new product development at BAE and has allowed them to provide a framework which ensures the front end of the project is loaded with the right people – improving the quality, success and longevity of the final build and delivery to the customer.

Lean Journey

The site was an early adopter of continuous improvement and Lean, in 1998 they began their first Manufacturing Improvement Programme, this has evolved over time to include a focus on Lean, Six Sigma, Lean Office, Benchmarking and application of many of the common Lean tools and concepts such as Five S (Workplace Organisation), Visual Management, Kanban (stock control) and Poke Yoke (Error Proofing). However, in 2005 they were struck by the fact that whilst they clearly understood and applied many of the improvement tools they struggled to sustain them, a localized approach was seeing improvements in certain areas creating bottlenecks in others, a challenge many companies will empathise with.

It became clear that to move forward they needed to find a framework that considered the end-to-end manufacturing process. BAE decided to adopt the Shingo Model for operational excellence. The benefits of the Shingo Model are the focus on Cultural Enablers as a foundation. This, I believe is what sets the Shingo Model apart from the TPS (Toyota Production System model), it relies on Culture first, and on this you can build successful and sustainable Continuous Improvement. Shingo also encourages systemic thinking – the need to look across the entire business and recognize the impacts of actions on others.

One of the key practices that have supported the organization is the Standardisation of both work and daily management – this provides:

  • Greater process control
  • Reduction in variability
  • Improved quality and flexibility
  • Stability (i.e. Predictable Outcomes)
  • Visibility of abnormalities
  • Clear expectations

This approach has had a marked impact on the business. BAE have seen a 50% increase in sales per employee, 10% reduction in overheads, they now have a 99.5% on time delivery to customer and have achieved a 4 times reduction in printed circuit board processing times.

Changing Hearts & Minds

One of the most noticeable changes I have seen at BAE Systems over the last five years is the improvements they have made to employee engagement. The focus on Shingo, has made them consider their culture, values and behaviours. They asked the question – what is culture? They defined it as a sum of their behaviours, values and principles – the way one conducts oneself, the treatment of others, our worth or standards and the laws that we base our reason or action on.

The focus on people and culture has driven a number of initatives:

  • A Wellness Activity Programme – employees recognized there was a desire to be part of a social club – so BAE now subsdise more social activities to create a more inclusive environment, creating an organization that people want to be part
  • Ensuring a safe environment – it became the norm that it was a safe environment – so BAE began looking at ‘near miss’ which made Health & Safety more pro-active. This evolved into physical safety, ethical behavior and employee wellbeing.
  • The ‘Recognising Excellence’ scheme and Rochester Chairman’s Award is given to people to recognize desired behaviours.
  • Skip Meetings – are open forums with the very senior members of the organization encouraging two way communications with cross sectors of the organization.
  • The Improvement Matters framework – makes use of peoples thoughts and ideas. It has generated small improvements and even new product lines.
  • Seeing the future – BAE create a mock newspaper set three years in the future. This sets out where employees hope to be three years in the future. It’s great fun and gets people thinking creatively.

From my observation, an important outcome of this is it has created a constancy of purpose as everyone has agreed on and understood the companies strategic goals. This provides a clear and unifying vision, which in turn stops the ups and downs created when people come and go.

One Big Thing

My big take-away from the visit is what BAE call their ‘One Big Thing’. This is the one strategic goal they are going to focus on in the coming year. Yes, there are multiple other targets, but the One Big Thing is the item that will lead to the biggest transformation in their business.


BAE finished their visit with the following video. I would advise you to think twice about watching it though as you will be singing the song in your head for a week (and sorry if you get the YouTube Ads!)! If you do or you don’t the message is a great one for anyone responsible for culture change – flashmobs work because they position key people within the group that know the actions (behaviours) expected, the others follow each of these people and changing behaviour is infectious.

Our thanks go out to the BAE team at Rochester who openly shared their experience with honesty, humility and a great deal of humour!

If you would like to see first-hand how BAE Systems have approached their journey to World Class Manufacturing, pre-register for their next visit in 2018.