We’ve all seen the headlines about Bombardier’s factory in Derby. They all reported on the recent loss of the Thameslink contract, job losses, and even threats to the plant’s long-term future. These headlines were large, and loud, and usually had at least one exclamation mark after them!

While it was certainly bad news for the company, some of the headlines were misleading, and even inaccurate. They have also, to some extent, masked Bombardier’s recent successes in other areas. Winning a £354 million contract to supply a new signalling system to London Underground is a significant order, and the bulk of it will be made in the UK at Bombardier’s Plymouth factory.

Derby has won an order too, for £189 million of trains for Southern. Both excellent pieces of news but, to some extent, lost in the wash of reporting the “bad news”.

However, when the rail engineer was told that Bombardier were actually seeking to take on 50 extra designers, then it became obvious that Derby wasn’t as dead-in-the-water as some were trying to make out. It was time to go to Litchurch Lane to find out for ourselves.

Worldwide experience

Jon Shaw, Senior Director – Engineering, was only too pleased to put time aside to explain what was behind the move. He has only recently joined Bombardier, having had a most interesting international career so far, and sees his present role as being one of the most exciting yet.

His remit is to further strengthen the UK-based engineering team. Bombardier has an industry-leading reputation for innovation in its international markets and Jon is determined that the UK team will be part of this success.

A local lad, having grown up in Eastwood, Derby, Jon joined British Rail as an engineering trainee. He was also an apprentice at Mansfield Town FC before moving down to London to join the design office at Westinghouse where he was involved in EMC testing of the Eurostar fleet.

From there, he moved to Lloyds Register Rail, first to look after the early tilting tests on Pendolinos, and out to their office in Hong Kong.

One of Jon’s clients was Hitachi, and he helped them to prepare their bid which resulted in the order for class 395 trains.

Once that contract was placed, Jon moved over to Hitachi in Japan and spent seven years designing the class 395 and seeing the project through from the initial concept to standing on the dock as the first finished train landed at Southampton.

The next move was to Ansaldo STS as Head of Engineering for the Asia Pacific region, and thence to Global Vice President, Engineering at the Ansaldo headquarters in Italy.

Now he is happily back in Derby and Senior Director for Bombardier, where he has been running the 250-strong design office for the last eighteen months. In that time he has moved it from looking solely at designs for Derby-built products to being one of the major rolling stock design centres for Bombardier as a whole – Derby is now a Worldwide Centre of Excellence.

Overseas business

As a result, the Derby design centre attracted £4 million of engineering business from other parts of the Bombardier business in 2011. Derby designers are working on aluminium car bodies for double-decker coaches for Switzerland, more car bodies for high speed trains in Italy, and the interior of the new São Paolo monorail which is being built in Canada.

Some external testing and development work is also undertaken. A VTG flatbed bogie wagon was outside having been through the test shop where bogie movement and various other checks take place.

There was an interesting visitor inside the shop as well. Blackpool tram number 03, one of the new German built Flexity 2 trams launched at the end of last year, was being tested for tilt stability. Shims of various thicknesses were being placed under the wheels, some on the left and side and others on the right to induce twist into the vehicle, to see how the wheels unloaded as the tram was tilted. New designs

Derby designers are also working on UK designs. The recent Southern order is for a hybrid train made up of elements of class 377 and class 379 ELECTROSTAR EMUs, with a different interior to either and a new train control management system (TCMS), so design work on that is needed. And they are also working on what is known as the eVoyager.

This is a plan to add one more car into existing Voyager (and Super Voyager and Meridian) trains with a pantograph fitted so that, once the train is under wires, it can be run off the overhead electrical supply and not the onboard diesel engines.

This is not yet a firm order, but Bombardier is developing the design just the same. It involves integrating the overhead supply with the existing onboard busbar, and also modifying the control system to accommodate the new power supply.

Jon Shaw is enthusiastic about this project. It involves both electrical and mechanical design teams at Derby, and as Voyager is a steel-bodied design they also have to work with the designers of the original Voyagers which were built at Bruges. When it becomes a firm order, the steel bodies are again likely to be built abroad, but the detailed design and the fit-out will be undertaken at Derby.

All of Jon’s hard work to develop the Derby design team into an international office has paid off. As already mentioned, Derby is now a Worldwide Centre of Excellence for aluminium body design, TCMS, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) testing, systems integration and human factors (otherwise known as ergonomics).

Bombardier’s engineers in Derby are also involved in supporting the company’s drive to optimise the energy efficiency and environmental performance of its products, an approach which is yielding noticeable results. Just in January 2012, Laurent Troger, Bombardier’s President, Services, called Derby “best for production engineering for Bombardier worldwide”.

Staff development is important to Jon’s whole approach. All engineering managers have done time on the production line, Jon included, to experience first hand how designs are turned into a finished train.

During the recent publicised cutbacks, no engineers were made redundant. Now, 50 more are needed to work on various projects. As well as eVoyager, and the upcoming bid for Crossrail, large projects are anticipated to come out to tender in South Africa. This could provide the opportunity to use some of the technology developed for the abortive Thameslink offer and, with the experience gained on the Gautrain project, Bombardier should be in with a good shout.

“It is a great shame that we didn’t get the Thameslink contract”, commented Jon Shaw. “All our people put their heart and soul into that design, which we thought was an excellent one. We really wanted to see it through into production. However, elements of the design will still be incorporated into future new trains, so the work won’t all be wasted.”

International recognition

The level of expertise in Derby is already getting recognition within the group. Just before Christmas, a telephone call from Austria, where production problems were being experienced with the roofs of new trains for the OBB, resulted in two Derby engineers flying out to help solve the problem.

Also, Colin Scott has become the first Engineering Specialist level ES3 in Derby. This is the top engineering grade within Bombardier and Colin now can be called up to assist with and audit designs by other Bombardier design departments.

In addition to the 50 engineers that Jon Shaw is now looking for, he will take on a further 15 young engineers this year. Five will be apprentice engineering technicians, five engineering graduates earmarked for management roles, and five more graduates to become engineering specialists. This so called “Dual Career Path” gives the maximum opportunity to the new intake.

Even the fifty new designers won’t all be rail people. Jon Shaw estimates that 50% will be from inside industry, but the others could be from other areas such as systems integration specialists from the defence industry. In addition, production engineers from the automotive industry can be welcome, as are the so-called Vehicle Architects who work on style and ergonomics.

So, at the start of 2012, it’s far from doom-and-gloom in Derby. The engineering department is buoyant, and busy, and planning ahead.