#LDNTechWeek: What on earth has F1 got to do with making toothpaste? McLaren explains

Written as editor of the New Statesman’s NS Tech and first published here.

London Tech Week kicked off this morning, despite the rain, with a short introduction from Ed Vaizey MP, followed by a panel on fashion technology, or fashtech, if you’re in the know.

Digital jumpers aside, one corporate transformation story that really caught our eye was the work that Formula One team McLaren is now doing in the wider technology space.

Of course, its bread and butter is creating the best automotive technology, using the right kind of fuel and building a great team around its F1 hopefuls.

But for the past five years, McLaren has been working with pharmaceuticals giant GSK across both its products and operations, with a view to applying some of its auto-know-how in the big pharma industry.

Specifically, it’s rolled out its rapid 1.8 second wheel change process within GSK’s Maidenhead toothpaste factory, with some pretty interesting results.

“The problem was that they had these high-speed toothpaste filling lines where they were changing over the product five, six, seven times per day,” explained Mike Phillips, head of simulation at McLaren Applied Technologies, to NS Tech.

“But when they changed from one flavour to another, that shut down production line for sometimes upwards of over 30 minutes.

“We started with the tech, adding in sensors to monitor the things we didn’t understand and to find out where failures were happening, but we soon realised much of what we needed to do was about team culture.

“The GSK team on the production line had great ideas, what we had to do was get them working as a team. We used our F1 pitstop processes as an example of a way you plan before your do things, think about things that might go wrong ahead of time and make sure everyone is clear about their responsibilities.”

Phillips explained that McLaren helped GSK more than halve the time it took to turnaround a flavour change, enabling it to produce something like 40 million more tubes of paste in just one factory each year.

“If you try to impose technology into a working culture without thinking about the way that people work, you’re doomed to failure. It’s just an expense.”

McLaren’s Applied Technologies team has now sealed a 10-year partnership with KPMG to deliver technology, data, analytics and simulation projects to large corporates struggling with digital transformation.

Today, that’s focused on consumer goods companies, retail and supply chains, power and utilities, and the financial sector, with a view to helping legacy businesses transform their operational performance.

“A lot of businesses are finding their markets are dynamic like they’ve never been before, but operations are rigid, fixed and high cost, which doesn’t match up,” Phillips said.

“What we’re now delivering with KPMG is dynamic supply chain simulation, using real-time data from the market, plugging in things like marketing campaigns, to allow companies to be dynamic and even predictive about where they’re going to be.”

This is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to digital transformation, but who’d have thought it’d be one of Britain’s oldest Formula One racing companies that would be driving tech change across UK PLC.

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