The facility started operating in March 2018 and had its official opening in September. From an operational standpoint, how have things been over the past six months?
Exceptionally smooth so far with little service issues since making the short move. Facilities are designed and planned out but it’s fair to say you only get to truly know how they work once moved in. Our volumes are way up year on year. Obviously, we did make some minor tweaks, but they were very minor – for instance, changing some wheels on a water trolley we designed. In 2018 so far we are around 30% up in terms of volumes on last year. Some people have remarked how quiet things are, which is more down to our redesign of the flow methodologies while also having a much bigger shop. They’re not seeing the crowded environment of our previous repair shop, which was two and a half times smaller than the one we are now in. By Christmas the facility should be running at full capacity.
Which battery types will be serviced at the facility?
A wide variety - lithium ion, nickel cadmium, sealed lead acid, nickel cadmium packs. With the exception of the lithium ion operating on the Boeing 787, we service every battery that flies.
When at full ramp up by the end of the year, what will the breakdown of batteries repaired on site be?
The majority will still be nickel cadmium, which account for around 80% of all batteries we repair in the U.K. Around 12% of repairs are lithium ion, while the remaining 8% is lead acid and packs.
New facilities present opportunities for technology upgrades. What is Satair investing in at the Heathrow location?
Investing in this area will be a focus of ours in 2019. There are two big projects as far as the battery workshop is concerned. One is electronic data capture, which we are doing via tablets and will go into the test phase shortly. The second, as we look to upgrade some of the old charger machines of around five years, we can utilize manufacturers’ capability to link many machines together and also take computer readings out of them. This will enable us to collect any data directly from the machines. We are also upgrading our fluid control mechanisms. There are various methodologies, but we use acoustic monitoring systems.
Have there been additions to the workforce?
Three people have joined the bigger workshop and another five staff have started working in the warehouse. At our former site we employed 13 people, but now this has grown to 22. By the end of this year we will have 25 people working at the facility. Apprentices have also been something we've focused on. In January of this year, we started our first battery technician apprentice scheme in conjunction with a non profit organization called Way To Work. One apprentice has since started on a two-year placement, and we will continue this next January with the long-term aim of nurturing our own people in-house. Battery technicians are generally hard to come by given the niche nature of the profession and the fact it's a very particular skill.