Simulating success

While it was Peter Poon, founder and chairman, who physically picked up last year's BEEAs Consultancy of the Year and Grand Prix awards, it is his son Andy Poon who, as CEO of Romax Technology, is driving the company forward. Ho spoke to Tim Fryer about Romax's Award winning philosophy.

"Right First Time is a bit like an ideal," said Andy Poon. "You will never actually get there, but it is definitely an overriding philosophy.To do that you've got to look at how you can do things better all of the time and how you can bring information from downstream, that would have been lost or not used and assimilated back at the start."

'Doing things better' was the mantra used by Poon's father when picking up the BEEAs Grand Prix award last year, and Poon believes that combining design and simulation – two areas that Romax specialise in – can lead to the continuous improvement that 'doing things better' implies.

While the BEEAs recognition was for the design work, the company was built on its expertise in understanding and simulating the behaviour of rotating machinery, and currently its main 'product' is simulation software. Simulating performance at all stages of a product's lifecycle can provide invaluable information.

Poon commented: "You always want 20/20 hindsight but you can never get it, but you can get clues that are hidden everywhere. Youtry and have as much information as possible at the start, but you don't want that quandary when you have too much information gives which then gives you no insight into what's going on. It is our job is to make sure that we can bring all the information in and create something that the designer can base decisions on - as soon as you do that you can empower the designer the freedom to do better and better designs."

There is actually an interesting dynamic at Romax itself because the disciplines of design and simulation could be perceived as competitive. Poon acknowledged: "There is a creative tension and also a business tension within Romax. The idea that you do consulting and sell the experience and knowledge and maybe designs, while at the same time you would actually sell a piece of software which would actually do yourself out of that business is an interesting dynamic. It is one that Romax has dealt with over the last 20-25 years."

Despite these tensions there is clearly also a synergy that makes it work. For example automotivegearboxes may be required to be strong and reliable, but they also need to be cheap and quiet. Doing a noise simulation can show the beneficial effects of super-precise manufacturing, and therefore highlight the trade-off between cost and performance.

"You need a very sophisticated designer to fully understand that distribution of the manufacturing policies and then you want to piece those back together and put them into the design," said Poon."Design Right First Time is all part of how you front load the simulation and design knowledge to really concentrate that during that initial phase of the design. The alternative is using just prior knowledge and experience and rules of thumb and you then bake in problems.You spend more and more money to develop the product but you haveto solve the problems in the end. So we are trying to move this over-the-wall idea where people leave problems to be dealt with by somebody else further down the line, which is typically a way that a lot of design processes are set up."

That combination of design and making designs work, along with developing tools for simulation and lifecycle problem solving is what makes Romax different according to Poon: "It is that sort of ambiguity and almost that contradiction which sort of gives Romax that innovative edge. We don't want to define things quite so rigidly, we want to look at the problem and try and make sure that the problem has all the right inputs into it to come up with the right solution. So yes, we are not a traditional consulting company nor are we just a traditional software only company."

Winning the two awards at the BEEAs has been of obvious benefit for the company in terms of general publicity and when putting forward design consultancy proposals for new business. However Poon has noticed that it has had a very positive impact internally as well.

"It is great recognition of the design work that we do because of the way the judging process works, because it is peer reviewed – the award really means something. I think that was a really positive message inside the company.

"Recruitment as well.We are a technology company but we are also a people company. Our growth depends on both growing our people internally and also bringing new people in. We are a very big fan of bringing grad's and less experienced people and growing them, so it [the BEEAs successes] has been a very good way of being able to tell the story about design, design excellence and sort of the opportunities of joining Romax and being able to then work with other companies in design and be able to contribute to British design excellence. I think that's really strong."

CV – Andy Poon

Poon has played key role in driving Romax's year-on-year growth, which led to the company receiving a Queen's Award for International Trade in both 2005 and 2009. CEO since 2013, previous roles included Head of InSight serving the wind energy sector, and Software and Engineering Product Manager roles dealing with gearbox noise, vibration and harshness issues for the automotive and wind sectors. Joining Romax in 1992 as a software engineer, he played a central role in developing the flagship RomaxDESIGNER software. A sub-committee member of the IEC 61400-22 Wind Turbine Certification Advisory Council, Poon studied Computer Sciences & Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University.