Running Millbrook's Battery Test Facility Remotely

An Interview with David Prigg, Manager - Battery Test

Battery endurance test facility for battery life testing at Millbrook

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen us adjust to new ways of working across Millbrook. Our battery testing team has adapted to be able to work remotely and limit time on site. We have continued to run the facility at full capacity to support our customers during this crisis, which is an impressive achievement. We spoke to David Prigg, Battery Testing Manager at Millbrook, to find out how we accomplished this and what it has meant for us and our customers.

 

"Millbrook did a brilliant job in responding to the situation quickly and continuing to operate, which is definitely something that we should be proud of." David Prigg, Manager - Battery Test

Battery durability testing chambers at Millbrook

How have you adapted to be able to continue running the Battery Test Facility?

The first step was acknowledging that the Battery Test Facility could be operated as an isolated area within the proving ground. This meant that the battery team was restricted from visiting the rest of the site and vice versa. This resolved the first issue, but the next concern was around business continuity, in the event people started to isolate or worse still become ill and affect the whole team.

We already had a shift pattern in place for our technicians - four days on, four days off. This meant the technicians in those two groups never came in to contact with each other. We therefore split the remainder of the leadership and engineering team into two operational teams, and aligned them to each separate shift. This protects our skillset, as the two teams never come in to contact with each other, therefore minimising any risk of cross contamination.

What tools are you using to enable remote running?

We needed to be able to run our test system automation software (REPS) from remote desktops. REPS is Millbrook’s own automation system that operates the full capability of our battery test chambers to assess the life of battery packs as well as battery cells and modules. We trialed a few different software applications to accomplish this. We needed software that could be configured in Millbrook’s firewall and provide the same visibility and functionality that the workstations on site provide. With the help of our IT team, we implemented software that allows us to run the REPS software remotely, from wherever we choose. Between the team at the office and the team at home, we can continue to run the facility as normal. The Battery Test Facility is actually at its busiest during this period, so we are managing to operate it at full capacity, perhaps even more efficiently than normal! 

Automotive battery life and performance testing facility chamber at Millbrook Proving Ground

What were some of the biggest challenges of this process?

The biggest challenge we had at the start was that nobody knew what the future held or how to deal with it. We reacted in the best way possible by not waiting around, but adapting and putting new practices into place immediately. People were definitely concerned, but we instilled confidence in our employees by prioritising personal safety and demonstrating that we were open to feedback and discussion about what else we could be doing. People started to trust and understand that the situation was manageable, they were not at any additional risk, and they could continue to work safely on site, or athome. I think people became appreciative of Millbrook’s response to the situation, and happy to be able to continue doing their job.

I’ve actually enjoyed the challenge. We’ve always had a briefing every morning in the control room and then a teleconference with customers. This is now done online, whether people are in the office or at home. It’s become a really powerful way of communicating daily and consistently, it’s actually improved the way we’ve operated and brought everyone together. We’ve also developed an online job list, with tasks that were previously designated in person. In that sense, some of our organisational techniques have actually improved through the situation.

How have people responded to the change in your working practices?

The overall reaction has been really positive. Essentially, keeping the facility open has enabled our customers to keep a critical element of their business running smoothly during these difficult times. We immediately completed a comprehensive risk assessment around social distancing and cleanliness, we’ve issued signage, communications and general reminders around the whole company and all of our processes have been reviewed. It’s actually allowed us to challenge processes and improve them because we’ve analysed them even more than we usually would.

Overall, Millbrook did a brilliant job in responding to the situation quickly and continuing to operate, which is definitely something that we should be proud of.