Moog: Under every Forumla 1 car bonnet in the world
PUBLISHED: 10:07 20 April 2016 | UPDATED: 10:14 20 April 2016
Moog is a global company that doesn't shout loud about its innovation expertise. We visit Moog's Industrial Group, one of Moog's two Operating Groups at Tewkesbury
Moog is a worldwide designer, manufacturer and integrator of precision control components and systems. It doesn’t make Moog synthesizers. That fact came as a bit of a surprise to the Entity Manager of Moog’s Industrial Group at Tewkesbury when he first joined on a youth training scheme. The 16-year-old Chris Curr applied because he quite liked music and thought it would be a pretty cool place to work.
That was over 30 years ago. YTS schemes are now a fond memory, and Chris discovered his mistake soon after he arrived, but it didn’t put him off building his career with the company. Moog’s US founder, Bill Moog, might not have invented the music synthesizer (actually, that was his cousin Robert), but came up with something that while it doesn’t sound quite as exciting, unless you’re an engineer, has contributed much more to global manufacturing innovation in the world’s first servo value. This is an electrically operated valve controlling the flow of hydraulic fluid where precision, acceleration, velocity and force are critical: a type of motor for the uninitiated many.
Fast forward 65 years and Bill’s company might still not be quite as cool as cousin Robert’s, but his servo valve business has evolved into a world-wide business turning over considerably more: $2.6 billion across five operating groups: aircraft (it’s biggest group), industrial, space and defence, components and medical.
Moog is a complicated business. Established by Bill Moog in the USA in the 1950s, its first venture overseas was to manufacture in Germany. In 1958, Bill Moog signed a licence agreement with George Dowty to manufacture values in the UK. Dowty, of course, continues to be one of Gloucestershire’s most famous names, having spawned a huge aerospace industry still in evidence across the region today. The first wholly owned Moog UK facility was established at a factory located on The Runnings in Cheltenham in 1969. In 1979 Moog moved to Tewkesbury. Now there are two operating groups. The larger one serves the aircraft sector and employs around 300 members of staff, and Moog Industrial, headed by Chris. The UK became Moog’s aircraft centre for Europe in the mid 1990s, and it is still the bigger of the two Moog companies based in Tewkesbury. Moog’s Industrial Group, which employed around 100 people, recently moved into a new 45,000 sq ft purpose-built factory at Ashchurch Parkway, just off Junction 9 of the M5 motorway, almost double the size of its previous factory, and with room to expand.
Moog’s Industrial Group designs and manufactures a lot of very clever products which go into test equipment, energy plants, the oil and gas industry and every single Formula 1 racing car in the global Formula 1 championships. It also contributed to the huge drilling equipment used to dig the Channel Tunnel, equipment in the B2 Stealth bomber and is responsible for Wimbledon Tennis Club’s famous retractable roof (the only retractable stadium roof in the world which can be opened and closed during a game). Oh, and Moog worked on the hydraulics that plunged a full size Venetian villa into the sea in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale (and then hoisted it back up again after the cameras stopped rolling).
For 30 years, Chris Curr has steadfastly progressed in his career, despite what could have been a crushing disappointment at 16 to discover that he wouldn’t be working on music amplifiers at stadium rock concerts, rubbing shoulders with Mick Jagger or Bono. From YTS apprentice to an HNC in engineering at Gloscat (now Gloucestershire College), Chris moved into management. In 2002 he took on responsibility for project management of motorsport in Moog’s industrial Group. After completing his master’s degree at Cardiff University he took over the whole of the operations of Moog’s industrial group and became a director of Moog Controls Ltd in 2013. He is responsible for the £14 million turnover business and close to 100 staff.
He shares this encouraging career story with new apprentices who join Moog: You can join as an apprentice and have the opportunity to progress to board level. Though he also says that can bring its own problems. “I’ve been here so long that despite my career progression I’m still known as ‘young Chris’ to some of the longer serving staff members.” Young Chris is 47.
One of the reasons he and many others have stayed with Moog so long is because of the company culture: “It’s informal but with high expectations,” says Chris. “That way you get the best out of people.”
While Moog’s Industrial Group has its European manufacturing headquarters in Germany, and it does a lot of service work at Tewkesbury rather than new build, what it does better than anyone else is motorsport, because motorsport engineering is really aircraft products adapted to Formula 1 cars.
Moog is high quality, high technology and it’s grown organically and through acquisition, including many global strategic acquisitions. Locally, Moog acquired Whitton Technology, which makes hydraulic gear pumps, and Ultra, part of Dowty. Its objective in acquisitions is to expand the company’s technology capability. It’s currently working on migrating miniature hydraulic technology for motorsports into autonomous robotic applications.
Moog Industrial at Tewkesbury focuses on motorsports and industrial service. Surprisingly it doesn’t export much directly.
Chris is more upbeat about the global economy than many I’ve interviewed. “While it’s clear that the markets have slowed, we still see China as a growth area for what we manufacture. Opportunities for simulation and testing, power generation, and renewable energy (wind) continue and China continues to take a lot of that business. Closer to home our Tewkesbury facility undertakes a lot of innovative engineering for performance application such as motorsport and robotics as well as servicing Moog products for power stations and that’s not going to go away.”
A tour of the new Moog Industrial factory is enlightening. It’s incredibly clean, warm and bright. We stop to talk to one engineer, Nick Miles, who is servicing part of the famous Wimbledon retracting roof. Moog undertake regular maintenance work on all moving parts of the roof, which are brought down to the factory. Another engineer, Greg Chilton, shows me an actuator that has come back for servicing from one of the Formula 1 teams. “They’re so secretive that although we manufacture them, we aren’t given the full story about how they are used. That’s all confidential,” he says.
In one corner, Chris points out two old pieces of grinding equipment. They look out of place in this pristine, almost clinical environment, like an old black kitchen range fitted into a 21st century kitchen. Chris isn’t apologetic. “These had been stored in the old factory and we found them in the move. They might look old fashioned but they’re still as good as anything on the market for the job they were designed to do. So we’re refurbishing them for reuse.” Chris guides me to an even more pristine area, the ‘clean room’. Here air is filtered so that nothing can impede the detailed work of the engineers. And there’s another surprise. In a room with six engineers, four of them are female. Imagine. And even more amazing, two of them are a mother and daughter combo, Alison Low and Amy Hancocks. I point this out to Chris, who doesn’t seem to think it’s as surprising as I do, clearly gender isn’t an issue for Moog. What’s more important is that they get the job done.
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