LEAFIELD, UK - Engineering specialist group TWR has made such a virtue of secrecy in its engineering consultancy business that it sometimes solves the same problem twice.
Although that represents an inefficiency, it is part of the approach that has brought success to the company. During 1997, TWR group raised sales by 14 percent and increased its staff by one third. This reflects the new joint-venture factory at Uddevalla, Sweden, where TWR manufactures the C70 coupe and convertible models for Volvo.
Sales are now about $553.5 million and staff number 1,840, said Richard Hayes, corporate marketing manager.
'The group has been accelerating fast through the Nineties,' Hayes said. 'Now people in the automotive business have got more of a sense of what we are, and we are getting more offers of work than we can do.'
The general perception of TWR has been that it is essentially an automotive racing operation. The company founder and managing director, Tom Walkinshaw, started in racing and TWR customers have had success in competition. They include Jaguar, Porsche and Volvo. Recently, TWR has been involved with the Benetton team and it owns the Arrows Grand Prix team.
But only 15 percent of TWR sales involve motor racing, Hayes said. Most is generated by services to the automotive industry.
Two projects are large. The biggest is the AutoNova AB joint venture in Uddevalla, which employs 850 and will turn out nearly 20,000 Volvo C70 models in 1998. Another is the Aston Martin DB7 engine factory near Oxford which employs 150 and will build 800 units this year.
Engine development remains a core function at TWR. In 1990 the firm had only two engine customers. Now the R&D center, at Leafield in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, is working on eight projects for major automotive customers. Three of those customers are in the world Top 10, says group engineering director Phil Harding, who was formerly with Rolls-Royce.
Projects under wraps
Some customers admit they have received a helping hand from TWR. Mazda, BMW, Volvo, Saab, Lamborghini, Jaguar and Aston Martin are among those who publicize their association with the company.
However, most projects remain under wraps. Five cars at the 1996 Paris motor show were developed with TWR. Only one of the carmakers admitted it, Hayes said.
'We are a powerful force in automotive development but a concealed one. You can't miss us in Formula One but you can't find our name on a road car. Yet road cars are 85 percent of our business, and 90 percent of that business is with volume manufacturers.'
Security at Leafield is as tight inside the premises as around the perimeter. Projects are known by numbers. Engineering staff have electronically charged pass cards which allow them only into their own project rooms, the toilet, the restaurant and the car park.
Entry to all other areas is banned, including the block where the Arrows Grand Prix cars are built. The Arrows team may be TWR's flagship, but 95 percent of the workforce see the latest car for the first time on TV.
TWR makes a virtue out of the sort of duplication that other companies strive relentlessly to eliminate. 'We have found ourselves working on similar problems at the same time for two different customers,' Hayes said. 'Our teams did not cross-refer. They solved both problems independently. They had to, since engineering and packaging reflected the separate identities of the manufacturers concerned. Above all we respect the heritage of the individual manufacturer.'
Speed is a weapon
Speed is one area where every employee believes TWR has the edge on the rest of the business. The group creates a brand new Formula 1 car in the six months between Grand Prix seasons. In the course of the racing season it will modify 70 percent of the car. This unremitting pressure to design, build and run a top competition car within a tight seasonal timescale produces engineers with uniquely honed skills.
'In engineering terms we regard a new Formula One car as a niche model and we translate that into every other project,' Hayes said. 'In general we can take a year out of the development program for any manufacturer - if they let us. Too often the manufacturer is cautious and wants to check our results by traditional methods. We can create so much momentum that the manufacturer feels the need to slow us down.'
After its rapid expansion in the 1990s, the company is circumspect about further substantial investment. 'We will put in more facilities if and when we need them,' said Geraint Castleton-White, general manager, TWR Engines. 'But we would rather our engineers used state-of-the-art laboratories elsewhere than to invest further here. It depends on the customer, of course, but we are happy to use their facilities. We are equally happy to have their engineers working here.
'Many are already doing so on numbered projects in our secure rooms. Where possible we integrate with the customer. You could almost call us a Tier Zero supplier.'