Paul Allen, Vehicle Distribution Manager, Bentley Motors tells Shaun Hunter why quality is so important to their finished vehicle supply chain

Quality has been a word synonymous with Bentley throughout its prestigious history, starting with the very first car - the EXP 1 in 1919, following W.O. Bentley’s mission statement: “To build a good car, a fast car, the best in its class,” ensuring quality was an ethos from the ground up.

Founding principles

Sitting in a Bentley, quality is a word impossible to ignore, as every surface, finish and detail literally exudes it, and for those lucky enough to visit the plant in Crewe - home to Bentley since 1946 - the first thing you notice on entering the assembly area is just how clean, tidy and organised it is - feeling almost, clinical, surgical - unlike any other car plant of a similar scale in the world.

Bentley stands proudly on principles founded 100 years ago, valuing skilled craftsmanship - with all cars still being hand-built in our evermore automated world, offering an uncompromising attention to detail. For instance, the new Continental GT has some 2.8km of thread affording the 310,675 stitches needed for the 12 bull hides of leather in each - adding to why each car takes around 130 hours to complete. By comparison, the average build time for most cars is touted as being between 17 to 20 hours.

Where and how does the Bentley ethos incorporate into the supply chain? Allen explains that his responsibility starts at the end of the finishing line and ends when the car gets handed over to the retailer where both the UK and Europe are concerned, and to the ports of entry for customers outside of the EU.

Paul Allen - Bentley

“My responsibilities are ensuring that the car is delivered to those handover points in the same first-class condition that they left the factory. It’s important that the quality standards and principles that we have in place at Bentley are echoed through every handover point throughout our entire supply chain.”

Unique challenges

Finished vehicle distribution for Bentley comes with an added level of complexity due to both the size and width of the vehicles. Allen tells me this is something they look at from the very beginning - at the first stage, sharing the product portfolio size with carriers and conducting schematic testing with 3D CAD models to ensure that the cars will physically go onto the trucks: “We use two methods of transport - closed transport and open transport. Once we have provided the theoretical data and the analysis has been done through the schematics then we take it to the next stage where we invite the different types of equipment to Crewe to conduct a physical load trial.”

Of high importance to Bentley is that the cars have sufficient all round clearances, aiming for an uncompromising minimum of 10 cm all round, as Allen explains: “You can see a schematic drawing and think you can get so many vehicles on a truck, but when you actually do the physicals you think - that's actually a little too tight. If we compromise, then we increase the risk of damaging the product through its journey.”

The next step is to conduct physical load trials for all four platforms, the Bentayga, the GT, the Flying Spur and the Mulsanne, all four offer different configurations onto trucks. “This is a two-way partnership with the supplier and Bentley. Once we have completed the load trials, we do some actual driving of the trucks to the destinations.”

Allen says this step is essential to ensuring the route is assessed for any potential hazards or specific challenges, like overhanging trees for the open transporters and any pinch points including low bridges, to ensure that a full risk assessment of the routes the cars are going to take is completed, adding: “We also have to acknowledge the distances, so we are thinking about security, overnight stops and if we will run into delays along congested roads.

“Once that is done and we are confident, we will run for a trial period so that we have a bedded in process ensuring that anything that hasn't come to light during the first two stages has the opportunity to on the third. Once both parties are satisfied with the outcome, we go into full supply chain.”

Utilising synergy

Looking further afield, I ask Allen what the global supply chain looks like for Bentley. For example, what is the typical route into America and do they experience any bottlenecks?

Allen explains, some of the challenges other OEM’s face can be negated for Bentley as most cars are built to order: “The cars are already predetermined on where they are going before they go on the production line, so we have a good forecast of volume coming through.

“Once the car has arrived, we use open transport from Crewe to Grimsby - a Volkswagen port, and we utilise that synergy with the return journey of a Ro-Ro feeder from Grimsby to Emden,” adds Allen.

Proactive forecast planning

The European distribution hub for Volkswagen, Emden offers Bentley another opportunity to utilise the Groups synergy, joining vessels with VW goods from Emden to five ports in America; San Diego and Benicia on the west coast - Houston, Davisville and Jacksonville to the south.

Bentley only use closed transporters to take the cars from the ports to retailers in America, and the end of the year typically brings a peak in both volume and demand for all manufacturers. Allen tells me: “It’s about capacity planning and forward forecasting to ensure that we have a smooth operation when the car arrives. Without that proactive forecast planning we could create a problem in the delivery experience to the retailer.”

Continuing on the subject of proactive forecast planning, I ask Allen if Bentley are working on any specific strategies to mitigate the effects of the UK's imminent departure from the EU? Allen tells me they have been trialling different options over the last 8 months including various ports, one of which being Immingham: “Our approach is to be flexible with the aim of mitigating risk and minimising disruption.”

Alternative modes of transport

Previously Bentley had, for the most part, used closed transporters - a viable mode when considering the Continental GT would maximise a full load with six cars. Things changed however with the introduction of the Bentayga, as the increased size of the car reduced the average load configuration by a third, down to just four cars.

Additionally, Bentley have gone through a transformation in recent years, consistently delivering over 10,000 vehicles for each of the last six years, obviously overcoming many challenges along the way. I ask Allen, how Bentley manage to keep transport costs to a reasonable level, especially as a large proportion of stock is transported by road from Crewe: “At a point in time closed transport was a niche industry in the UK, as our volumes were climbing the capacity available was becoming very tight, so we needed to explore alternative methods of transport.”

A first for a luxury car manufacturer

Accepting that they needed to change, Bentley had to consider the potential security and quality risks inherent to open transport, “When we were introducing the Bentayga, some forward thinking was done, in the knowledge that we were going to have a challenge, as we needed that additional capacity.” Allen added: “Without affecting quality and without affecting our brand standards we needed to look at alternatives, at what other options were available to us and then take a business decision based around quality to ensure that we could safely step into the open transport sector.

“That would be a first for a luxury car manufacturer, but we had the confidence to do that, guiding ourselves very carefully along that process.”

The move to open transport - converting 17 territories from Containerisation to Ro-Ro - has been the biggest change Allen has been part of during his 15 years with the company.

Open transport proved to be a great success, offering Bentley the gains they were hoping for - moving from an average load capacity of four cars up to seven: “We did that by working with the right partners in the industry, through a 12-month trial, conducting a full data analysis, ensuring that quality would not be compromised, that delivery lead times were sustained and more importantly we had the capacity to move the volume we needed, into the larger markets.”

65% of all that Bentley manufactures goes to just two major ports in the UK - Grimsby and Southampton. The importance of these routes meant it was essential they found the right LSPs. “We needed to make sure that we had the right capacity, the right suppliers on board with the same quality ethos as Bentley, and not compromise on delivery standards, and that is what we managed to do.”

Quality not to be compromised

Open transport obviously comes with its own unique challenges in terms of moving luxury cars - with quality exterior protection a necessity during transit, to ensure the cars reach the customer in perfect condition.

Bentley also need to ensure that the exterior protection is robust and able to cope with anything that the road may throw at it: “An open transport full body cover really needs to be a good fit, they need to be good in design - we can’t risk it coming off in transit or any airborne debris getting under that cover that can then cause a negative effect to the paint finish of our vehicles.” says Allen.

Bentley test the exterior protection for all their cars in a high-speed wind tunnel, testing the cars at all angles in up to 110 mph winds, aiming to replicate both high winds and storms to tolerances above which an open transporter is ever likely to experience on the road. Allen tells me: “The results of these tests are collated with bench marking through the other brands within our group, offering us the confidence to say that our quality will not be compromised by going on open transport with our current design in exterior protection.”

New routes to market

Though Bentley may not currently transport its cars by rail, it’s a mode the company is exploring, as Allen explains: “We have recently done some trials in Europe. We are open to all different modes of transport, we know rail can give some good advantages in relation to our CO2 affect - it’s a greener mode of transport and we are a big believer in trying to take as many miles off the road as possible.”

Where rail is concerned, the width of the cars in Bentley’s range brings limitations, and dependent on the destination, rail offers some obvious benefits. Currently in the very early days of testing and trialling, the company is looking to utilise some of the existing railways from the ports to some of the major hubs throughout Europe. Allen informs me that the early days of those trails have proved successful, and that it doesn’t stop there - as they also looking to alternative rail transport, and the possibility of utilising the new Silk Road into China.

“This is something that we do want to look into further, we are currently in a sports luxury synergy group with our colleagues at Porsche and Bugatti and these types of trials are underway, but it is something that we are going to look at for the future.” Adding, “The problem with open rail cars, as I understand it, is the brake dust - brake dust can have a negative effect on paint quality. So, we have to ensure that if we were to utilise rail transport that we look at closed rail cars as opposed to open.” 

Really something to look forward to

The development of new digital technologies is something that Bentley are invested in exploring further, as demonstrated with the latest cohort of apprentices. Bentley are taking on 51 new apprentices this year, with 15 of these new positions for Digital Apprentices, focusing on future digital technologies in support of the digital transformation of the company.

The potential of connected car technology is massive to the automotive supply chain, from the factory to the retailer, as Allen explains: “I think we are in the infancy stages now, but that being said, there is a lot of research and development taking place. We have a product emergence process and part of that process is looking at what technology is available, what will be available in years to come and how we can connect into that.” Allen continues, “I think the industry has moved on at a very fast pace with technology milestone geo-fencing and milestone tracking of where cars are from A-B.

“Connected car will give us a lot more transparency and real-time information - to know exactly where a car is to pinpoint GPS.

Assisting their vehicles safe route through the supply chain, Bentley have developed ‘Transport mode’ - limiting and protecting certain attributes of the car: “Transport mode consists of several features that helps protect the car whilst in transit to the retailer, for example, we set the car to be restricted to a certain speed and set to a certain transit height, this is done so we can avoid any undercarriage damage while loading cars onto Ro-Ro vessels or transporters. Transport mode also places the battery into a hibernation state when the car is not in use to protect the battery condition throughout the supply chain,” Allen explains.

Anticipating that connected car technology will be another addition to transport mode, enabling Bentley to switch it on and off at certain points along the chain, Allen tells me: “When our cars get to our retailers, where the PDI is performed, part of the process will be to disconnect transport mode, engaging normal ride, we have all that data up to that point and not beyond to the customer. We will have real time tracking from Crewe to retail and throughout the entire supply chain. It is really something to look forward to.” 

Reducing damage in transit

Bentley is a big believer in putting preventative actions in place and that starts from the beginning of the design stage of a car. Considering the cars length, height and weight, a risk analysis is conducted, through every single process of the supply chain.

“It is so important to us that our quality standards are sustained and then replicated at each handover point. The lessons that we learn here at the factory in terms of how we store the car, the size of the footprint that we store a car in, the technology that enables us to know when a car needs a care program maintenance and to also have the correct lighting which enables us to inspect our cars, are all replicated throughout the transit supply chain. Having those standards and having those compliances throughout the journey helps us to prevent instances from happening.”

Every incidence can be avoided

Damage in transit is still regrettably a reality, and manufacturers and LSP’s work closely together to try to cover every conceivable angle and reduce occurrences. Connected car technologies offer a new level of tracking throughout the cars transit, bringing additional data points, from the factory to the retailer, offering new insights as to where damage may have occurred along the chain and to mitigate any further issues going forward.

“Incidents do happen, and it is about how we deal with every single incident, as every incidence can be avoided if we apply the right logic - the right mechanisms and put the right containment actions in place. Once we have that throughout the supply chain it is also about measuring how those actions you put in place are working, so we have essential KPI information with all of our suppliers and compound operators, assessing how they are managing their stock and the throughput of every single one of our cars.”

Allen tells me training is key in this regard, “It really is important that we take the time out to train all our providers on how to handle our cars when in a transit state. That starts from how to apply and remove a full body cover, and how to drive a car in a transit protected state, as a full body cover also restricts visibility and limits aids in relation to sensors around the car.

“So, going back to the beginning stage, at the risk assessment everything is considered and shared with all our providers. That is how we can help reduce the number of incidences that do happen.” 

We don't want to be in a reactive state

Technology is advancing all the time, and in a bid to aid manual inspections along the chain, which can be time consuming and the quality of inspections can obviously differ from one point to the next, Bentley have added a new vector mapping tool to their arsenal, offering a level of precision previously unavailable.

Degould offer a product with significant benefits to the automotive supply chain, winning the 2018 Product Innovation award at the Automotive Global Awards, for ‘Auto-Booth’ their unique vector mapping photo booth.

The technology captures 17 high resolution images covering 360 degrees of the car in just a couple of seconds, offering benefits that Allen understands clearly, “This gives us absolute confidence in the condition of the car prior to it leaving the factory. So, if an incident does happen along the journey, we are able to pinpoint where that incident happened, what kind of damage happened and we can do some root cause analysis, allowing us to identify any trends before a car reaches an importer.

“This technology is being installed in all the ports along the journey, currently we have a photo booth in Crewe, the next stage will be having them put into the ports in the UK and overseas. So, our cars will pass through an Auto-Booth as they leave Crewe, and again at the port of export and the port of entry. This then gives us a photographic digital stamp of the condition of that car, complete digital vector mapping throughout the entire supply chain.”

Allen shares Bentley’s aspirations to digitalise the entire supply chain, as they look to gain complete real-time reporting in relation to inspections and trend analysis, offering the ability to put problem resolutions into areas before the cars reach customers, “We don't want to be in a reactive state, in previous times we have been. We have waited for the customer to tell us that there is problem - we need to get to that problem sooner rather than later. This digitalisation, this innovative enables us to do that.”

One common objective

As Degould’s technology goes into automotive ports all around the world it will offer OEMs the opportunity to utilise the technology and put their cars through the same inspection standard, gaining standardisation throughout the supply chain. Allen agrees the best way forward is for OEM’s to share these facilities, “I think one thing that is good about logistics and good about other OEMs - we all have the same objectives. The competition is not in logistics. Where we can share best practice and best practice ideas, we have one common objective - to get the car to the customer in the same first-class condition that it leaves our factories. If we can embrace that together as one voice, then Bentley is a big sponsor to us doing that.”

Embrace technology, embrace change

Looking to the future, I ask Allen what he would like to see next, “I think we are going through a significant technological change, we have gone through a transformation from where we were ten years ago to where we are now. Connected car technology will bring many opportunities for the industry, for logistics, supply chain; I think that will bring us a lot more transparency and a lot more real-time reporting which is good for the industry.”

In conclusion Allen adds, “We need to embrace technology, embrace change, and have collective quality standards, look to simplify what we do and not to over engineer, as if we do that - we over complicate, add complexity and create unnecessary problems. It is about having a collaborative, open approach to how we distribute cars around the world.” 

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